Merlin takes his usual cafeteria seat next to Gwen. She’s flipping through her sociology textbook, but she looks up and smiles at his arrival.
“Help me come up with an idea for my social experiment, so I don’t end up being the ‘pregnant’ girl this year.”
Gwen’s in the A-level sociology class, which is famous at their school for having all of its students do a “social experiment” where they pretend to have a different social identity for a month and study the reactions of their peers. There’s always at least one fake-pregnant girl, and she’s always mocked, although for her lack of creativity rather than her pregnancy, because no one believes it anymore.
“Pretend you voted Leave,” Merlin suggests, after a moment of thought. He’s a good friend, so he adds, “I’ll yell really creative insults at you and you can record them.”
“I’m not even old enough to vote,” Gwen points out.
“Pretend to be a communist,” says Will, because he is a communist, and he's always trying to trick his friends into learning more about communism in the belief that it will make them join the fight against the bourgeoisie, or whatever. Merlin and Gwen ignore this, as usual.
Gwaine drops into the seat across from Merlin. “Social experiment?” he asks Gwen, who nods. “Pretend you can’t speak English.”
“No one will believe she's suddenly forgotten an entire language,” Merlin says.
“Well, she could do it outside of school,” Gwaine points out. “Besides, no one's going to believe anything anyone in that class does or says for the next month.”
That afternoon, Arthur Pendragon takes the seat across from Merlin at Merlin’s library table, and says, “Hi, Merlin.”
Merlin is very confused by this. Arthur is the most gorgeous, athletic guy in their grade and Merlin is the kind of nerdy gay kid - they don't have very much in common, and they don't talk very much. Well, aside from that time in daycare when they conquered the treehouse from the bullies and spent the entire day in it talking.
That time in daycare is also the day when Merlin developed his first crush. Which has not exactly faded over the years since.
Merlin silently orders himself to be cool and not turn red. “Hi?” he squeaks, achieving neither of those things. “What's up?”
“Oh,” Arthur says, and looks down at the book in his hand as if it might hold the answer to this question. “I'm, um, working on my sociology project?”
Merlin recognizes it as a book Will’s tried to make him read a couple of times. “Are you pretending to be a communist?”
“What,”Arthur says. “Oh! No. Haha,” he says, and puts the book down on a random shelf.
“Cool,” Merlin says, bobbling his head in a decidedly uncool way. “Gwen came up with a really great project idea, she's gonna - no, wait, I can't tell you.”
Arthur laughs a lot louder than that really called for, Merlin thinks. “Oh well,” he says. “I'll find out at the final presentations anyways.”
Merlin nods. He's eager to pick up his pencil and keep balancing chemical equations and forget this terribly awkward conversation, but Arthur is still sitting there looking at him.
“Er,” Merlin says. “Did you want something? Only this is due next period, so….”
“Right! Right, sorry,” Arthur says. He blurts out very quickly, “I was wondering if you would maybe go out with me sometime?”
Merlin blurts, very smoothly, “What?”
After the initial excited shock, Merlin realizes what’s going on, and he can feel his face sort of fall. The book isn’t part of Arthur’s social experiment - Merlin is. Arthur's pretending to be gay, and of course he’s asking the one and only gay guy he knows to pretend to date him.
Merlin should probably say no, because he's pretty sure falling in love with straight boys is a very bad idea. Except, well, he’s already gone and done that. And where else is Merlin going to get a first kiss before he's like twenty? (Any of Gwaine’s suggestions aside.) Besides, Arthur is a bit of a prat but underneath that he's totally a good person, so even if he found out that Merlin's crushing on him, he wouldn't be a dick about it.
Merlin’s maybe taking a bit too long dithering; Arthur’s looking at him anxiously. “Or not!” he says, getting up from Merlin’s table and backing away while speaking. “That’s, um, that’s cool too, haha, I’m probably busy anyways, lots of … things to do, you know how it is…”
“... so you don’t want to go out?” Merlin asks, confusion returning.
Arthur stops mid-turn. “I do if you do.”
“All right then,” Merlin says.
Arthur beams at him.
Gwen is in class until the end of the day, so Merlin can't talk to her until then, but he really wants to share this news with someone, so even though Gwen and he decided their New Year's resolution was to stop texting each other during class, he pulls his phone out.
Merlin: GWEN I have to tell u a thing!!!
Gwen responds almost instantly.
Gwen: also, dammit merlin, we were doing so good!!
Merlin: sorry but it's WORTH IT, bcs I have a boyfriend!
Merlin: spoilers he's a fake boyfriend
Gwen: noooo I was so excited for a second there!! Who is it??
Merlin: ARTHUR PENDRAGON
Gwen: okay not to rain on your parade but like, is fake dating ur straight crush really a great idea??
Merlin: hmmm yes.
Merlin: okay prolly not but idc
Gwen: awesome! glad we got that sorted out
Gwen: my phone is now being confiscated
Gwen: WORTH IT
For their first date, Merlin and Arthur agree to go out to a movie a few nights later. (Arthur is busy most evenings, he explains apologetically to Merlin; he has football practice and track practice and other sports things.) Arthur picks Merlin up, looking unfairly gorgeous in really nice dark jeans and a fancy looking sweater. He also smells delicious, which Merlin finds out because Arthur hugs him hello.
“Hi,” Arthur says. “You look nice.”
Merlin is wearing normal everyday jeans (because he doesn’t have fancy ones) and a T-shirt (blue, because Gwen said it would bring out his eyes, because he is trying - although he’s not really sure what he’s trying, because Arthur’s straight), but he doesn’t look nearly as nice as Arthur. “Thanks,” he says anyways. “You, um, you too.”
Arthur pays for their movie tickets, so Merlin pays for their popcorn. (Technically, Merlin’s mum pays for their popcorn, because when Merlin told her he had a date, she lit up and gave him money to “spend on his nice young man” and was so happy for Merlin that he didn’t have the heart to finish the story and explain it’s actually fake. But Arthur doesn’t need to know any of that.)
Merlin has literally zero clue what the movie is about because (1) during the previews and the first fifteen minutes his hand keeps bumping into Arthur’s when he reaches for popcorn, and it happens so frequently he’d think Arthur was doing this intentionally if that wasn’t ridiculous, and (2) after the first fifteen minutes of the movie, when the popcorn is all gone, Arthur reaches out and wraps his hand around Merlin’s.
He leans in really close to whisper in Merlin’s ear, “Is that okay?”
Merlin nods frenetically, and Arthur squeezes his hand, and Merlin squeezes back.
The movie theatre is very dark, so Merlin isn’t sure why Arthur is holding his hand. Nobody will be able to see it, or recognize them if they do. But Merlin’s not going to point that out, because then Arthur might let go, and Arthur’s hand is warm and soft and really nice.
So it turns out that Arthur is a ridiculously amazing boyfriend.
Every morning, he finds Merlin at his locker and hugs Merlin hello.
Merlin needs to talk about that for a minute, okay, because Arthur’s hugs are great. He’s warm and cuddly and he always squishes Merlin just the right amount. Also, every time he whispers something nice in Merlin’s ear before he lets go. Like, the day after their first date - “date”, Merlin means - Arthur whispers, “I had a great time with you yesterday.”
And even the day after Merlin stays up until four in the morning finishing an assignment and looks (and possibly smells) like a wreck - he hasn’t looked in a mirror out of fear but he’s still managed to notice his shirt is inside out - Arthur gives him an extra-long hug and whispers, “I don’t think what you did with your hair was intentional, but I really like it.”
They always chat for a few minutes, and then Arthur walks Merlin to class, while carrying his books. (!!!) Within a week, he has Merlin’s class schedule memorized, so he knows where to go without having to ask.
Merlin supposes lots of those things are for show. The hugs, the book carrying, the walking him to class - they’re all to make sure everyone notices they’re in a “relationship”. Except, the really quiet, really sweet whispers in Merlin’s ear? The memorizing his schedule? Those are totally not necessary - nobody else even knows about those! Whispering makes extra sure of that!
Merlin has lots of theories. Maybe Arthur is just trying to be friends. This could just be how he acts with his “bros”. Maybe this is what bromance is like.
Or, it could be that Arthur’s a method actor. In order to pretend to be Merlin’s boyfriend, he has to go all in. Arthur’s acting is excellent, so Merlin thinks it’s actually plausible that Arthur studied acting techniques in preparation for his project.
Merlin tries not to even let himself think of the other possibility, the one that will no doubt end in his hopes and/or dignity being torn into little tiny pieces and stomped on.
Most people don’t guess that Merlin and Arthur are just fake-dating. They treat it as if it’s real. Arthur’s friends say hi to Merlin in the halls now, and Arthur gets some dirty looks from the same people who’ve been giving Merlin dirty looks for years. Also, terrifyingly, Arthur’s sister Morgana shoves Merlin into the girls’ toilets and warns him against breaking and/or toying with Arthur’s heart.
It’s very weird. It’s like if Merlin had announced that Trump was impeached on April Fool’s Day, and everyone had started cheering instead of saying “Shut up, Merlin” and going on with their business. (Except this is even less plausible.) Morgana’s terrifyingness distracts Merlin from his confusion, however, and then it’s pushed out of his mind completely by Arthur’s absolute adorableness.
“Morgana just said something cryptic and weird about you,” Arthur says, walking up behind Merlin at his locker. He puts his arms around Merlin’s waist and his chin on Merlin’s shoulder. “Did she do something Morgana-esque?”
“Um, well,” Merlin says. He wriggles around in Arthur’s arms to hug him back, then steps away. “Nothing too bad, unless you think she’ll go through with her threats to skewer me with her stilettos.”
“Also, do you really have a giant sword hanging in your living room? Because she said it was pretty dull but would still do the job.”
“Why is she being horrible to you?” Arthur demands.
“Oh, her threats are conditional on me breaking your heart,” Merlin says. “So obviously we’re safe.”
Arthur’s eyes soften, and he says “Awww,” in a half-teasing, half-touched tone, and - no, Merlin hadn’t meant it like that, he’d meant it like this isn’t real so he doesn’t even have Arthur’s heart to break. But he’s not going to argue, because Arthur’s on his toes leaning in and giving Merlin a small chaste kiss on the lips.
As first kisses go, Merlin thinks it’s a pretty good one.
Merlin goes to Arthur’s first football match after they start “dating”.
It’s actually not the first school football match he’s been to. There was a brief period where he and Gwen went to cheer on Gwaine, because he’d just switched to their school and they were his only friends. And then after that, once Gwaine had gotten a dedicated cheering section (mainly based on his insistence on taking his jersey off as soon as the game was over), they decided to keep going because there were actually a lot of cute guys on the football team. (In Merlin’s case, “cute guys” means Arthur.)
It is the first football match where Arthur has jogged over to the stands before the match to talk to him, though.
“Fancy seeing you here,” he says, looking utterly delighted.
“I’m not here just for you,” Merlin lies defensively. “I come to all the school games.”
“I noticed,” Arthur says. “I was always surprised you had so much school spirit.”
“Go, tigers!” Merlin says.
“Our mascot is a lion,” Arthur points out, grinning. “You are here just to see me.”
“Um, no, obviously not,” Merlin says. “Don’t be ridiculous. I simply have a deep love of football, as it is a proud British tradition.”
Arthur snorts. “You’ve been coming all this time just to watch me! I’m flattered.”
Merlin turns a deep red. “There are plenty of other cute boys on your team, I could have been watching any of them, you know!”
Arthur raises his eyebrows. “But would any of the other cute boys do this?” he asks, and leans in to kiss Merlin briefly on the lips.
He then trots back to where his team is warming up, while throwing smug smiles over his shoulder.
Merlin buries his burning face in his hands to stop his huge grin.
He should not be this happy, Arthur is just acting, but he’s a very good actor. Sometimes it feels really real and Merlin feels like he actually has a boyfriend who really likes him. Talking with Arthur is so much fun, and Arthur’s kisses are perfect, and wow, Merlin needs to stop letting himself think things like this. This was such a bad idea.
Arthur told Merlin he had a surprise for their second date. That was two weeks ago now, and they still haven’t gone on the date, because Merlin’s homework and Arthur’s sports keep getting in the way. Arthur hasn’t had the decency to give in and tell Merlin what the surprise is, so the mystery is driving him up the wall.
At the end of the school day, Arthur greets Merlin at his locker with a hug and a quick kiss, as usual.
“Do you have much work to do tonight?” Arthur asks.
“Hardly any,” Merlin says. “Do you have anything to do?”
“Yup,” Arthur says, and Merlin is disappointed for a second, but then Arthur continues, “Taking my boyfriend out on our second date.”
They head out hand in hand to Arthur’s car, Merlin guessing incessantly where they’re going. “Bowling? The fair? Ice skating? Robbing a bank? Paintball?”
“Some of those seem like inappropriate dates,” Arthur says.
“I dunno, I think they could all be fun,” Merlin says.
“I’ll remind you you said that when I kick your ass at bowling,” Arthur says.
“We’re going bowling?”
Arthur smirks at him as he opens the passenger side door of his car for Merlin. “Maybe sometime,” he says. “But not today.”
It turns out Arthur’s mystery second date is going to Build-A-Bear.
“This seemed like your kind of thing,” he says, hesitating outside the store, “but we can totally do something else if you’d rather not! Except not bank robbing.”
“No, I absolutely want to build a bear!” Merlin says. “Look, they have little Captain America’s! Captain Bear-Merica? Captain A-Bear-ica!”
Merlin has darted into the shop and is now holding up a bear-sized Captain America helmet. “This is adorable.”
Arthur grins. “I should’ve known you’d like Captain America,” he says.
Arthur doesn’t elaborate, clearly waiting for Merlin to ask. Merlin feels that Arthur’s grin spells trouble, but he can’t figure out what that’s supposed to mean, and he really wants to know. “Why, exactly?” he says.
“Well, you have a type, don’t you?” Arthur says. “You know. Blond, handsome, strong, could probably save the world.” He winks.
Merlin tries not to turn red. Arthur isn’t flirting for real, he reminds himself - and he does not actually know Merlin has a crush on him. Hopefully. There is no reason for Merlin to start blushing.
“True, I mean, Thor’s pretty, too,” Merlin says, hoping to deflect attention from his red face.
“Uh huh. Can you think of anyone else?” Arthur asks smugly.
“Er,” Merlin says. He looks around for inspiration, and catches sight of a Star Trek bear shirt. “Captain Kirk’s not bad!”
Arthur snorts and apparently decides to take pity on him. He picks up a blue Star Trek shirt. “Hmm, maybe I’ll make a Spock bear.”
He raises his eyebrows at Merlin, as if inviting comment. When Merlin doesn’t know what to say, Arthur continues, “I mean, if you’re making a bear who’s like me…”
Merlin doesn’t get it for a second, and then he demands, “Are you making fun of my ears?”
“What? No!” Arthur says. “No, you’re just both really smart and geeky and kind of hilarious.”
“Oh. Well. Okay,” Merlin allows.
“Also,” Arthur says, quickly and quietly, “You do both have really cute ears.”
He darts in and lands a butterfly-light kiss on the top of one of Merlin’s ears. When he leans back, they’re both bright red.
“Er,” Merlin says. “Bears!”
Captain A-bear-ica and Lieutenant Commandbear Spock are the cutest bears ever.
“You need to come inside for a minute,” Merlin says, when Arthur drives him to his house, “Because I am taking some pictures of our bears together whether you like it or not.”
Arthur laughs and they happily tromp into Merlin’s house, whereupon Merlin’s mum calls, “Hi, Merlin!”
Merlin’s mum is home.
Merlin just barely does not swear aloud. He thinks it would make him feel better if he did, though, because see, Merlin never actually got around to correcting his mum on the whole, “I am actually fake dating a boy,” thing.
And, as they’re holding freshly made teddy bears and blushing and giggling, his mum quickly and easily jumps to the conclusion of, “Oh, you must be the young man Merlin’s been seeing!”
“Yes,” Arthur says, immediately, before Merlin even gets around to trying to make a complicated hand gesture to explain that Arthur should play along. How helpful. “Hi! I’m Arthur, it’s so nice to meet you.”
“You can call me Hunith,” Merlin’s mum says. “Arthur, hmm? Merlin, you didn’t say it was Arthur you were dating.”
“Didn’t I?” Merlin says, with a weak laugh.
“I’ve heard so much about you!” Hunith tells Arthur. “Is this the part where I get to tell him all your embarrassing stories?” she asks Merlin.
“No!” Merlin says. “No, it most definitely is not!”
He sets the bears down very quickly on the front windowsill, snaps a picture of them holding paws, and then thrusts Spock at Arthur. “Here you go!”
Arthur seems to get the hint that he should run away now, and he fortunately doesn’t look offended, just amused. “I had a great time today,” he says. “I’ll see you later.”
“See you,” Merlin says, and he and his mum stand in the open doorway as Arthur goes to his car.
“He’s very sweet,” Merlin’s mum says. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me the boy you were dating was the same one you’ve had a crush on for years!”
She doesn’t say it very loudly, and Arthur is in his car. But the car windows are open, and Arthur looks up and meets Merlin’s eyes, and from the look on his face Merlin can tell he’s heard.
Arthur just smiles and winks at him, then waves at them both and drives off.
Merlin goes to his room, sits on his bed hugging Captain A-bear-ica, and texts Gwen.
Merlin: MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY
Gwen: What happened?????
Merlin: my mum just told arthur i have a crush on him!!!!!!!
Merlin’s very surprised when his phone rings. He’s not sure when the last time he actually called Gwen was, unless you count when they’re in the same room and she needs help finding her phone. Even then, Merlin sometimes just texts incessantly. But. This probably makes sense, doesn’t it?
He picks up. “Hi.”
“Hi! Tell me!”
Merlin tells Gwen the whole story, ending with “…and he heard everything, Gwen! This is terrible.”
“Merlin, you’re my best friend and I am absolutely here to support you in this, your time of need,” Gwen says. “But you’re being kind of dramatic.”
“I am not!” Merlin says, although if he took a moment to reconsider, he thinks he’d probably find Gwen is right.
“Look, Arthur’s very cute,” Gwen says. “This is probably nowhere near the first time someone’s had a crush on him.”
“Great,” Merlin says. “So I’m not very original.”
“And he’s totally not homophobic, right?” Gwen says. “So he won’t have a problem with it, is all I’m saying.”
“Are you sure?” Merlin says.
“Obviously I can’t be positive,” Gwen says. “But really, I think the worst case scenario would be that he’s weird about it, and you guys just pretend to break up a few days earlier than scheduled. But most likely, he’ll be fine with it.”
Gwen turns out to be totally right. The next morning, Arthur finds Merlin at his locker and hugs him and tells him, “Morgana’s secretly really jealous of Lieutenant Commandbear Spock.”
Merlin rejects this claim, because obviously Morgana is too evil and terrifying for adorable teddy bears, and they get into a debate about it, and it’s not awkward at all.
Arthur does give him a couple of smiles and looks, but they’re not taunting, they’re fond and sweet. They make Merlin blush, but Arthur doesn’t even tease him for that.
After the one crisis is averted, it is not long before another one pops up.
“Gwen,” Merlin hisses. “I have a very important topic to discuss with you.”
“Sure,” Gwen says, delightedly pushing aside her maths homework.
“So, you know how Arthur and I are ‘dating’,” Merlin says.
“No, really?” Gwen says. “I hadn’t noticed. Is that why Arthur won’t stop touching you?”
“Shut up,” Merlin says, blushing. “And, you know there’s a school dance coming up.”
“Which of course you’re going to, because this ridiculous fake relationship plot has to have a scene at the school dance,” Gwen says. “I mean, we’ve got all the other tropes, we can’t avoid the classiest one.”
“...Anyways,” Merlin says. “I figure we’re going, right? But like, can I just assume we’re going? Do I have to ask him? Or does he have to ask me? Or is it already decided that we’re going because we’re boyfriends?”
Gwen’s amusement at her own jokes fades quickly. She leans forward a bit to speak quietly to Merlin, and reminds him, “Fake boyfriends, Merlin. You haven’t forgotten that, right?”
“What!” Merlin says. “No! Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous!”
Gwen gives him a look of great sympathy.
“I am totally in control of my emotions!” Merlin says.
“If that were true, you would’ve gone up to Arthur and said, ‘Hey, bro, are we going to the dance,’ instead of dithering about it to me,” Gwen says. “You’ve fallen for him, haven’t you?”
Merlin huffs and drops his head into his hands. “He’s just so perfect,” he moans. “He’s the best boyfriend ever, Gwen, what am I supposed to do.”
Gwen pats his arm. “You’re going to stop pretending to be his boyfriend next week,” she says, “And then we’ll eat tons of ice cream and watch movies with way hotter guys than Arthur in them.”
Merlin pulls himself together and goes to talk to Arthur.
“So,” he says. How had Gwen put it? “Are we going to the dance?”
“Um,” Arthur says, looking sort of surprised. “We can, if you want to? I didn’t really think dances were your sort of thing.”
“Oh,” Merlin says, also surprised. Isn’t the dance important for Arthur’s project? It’s a very good opportunity for him to pretend to be gay in front of lots of people. “Yeah, they’re not, normally… but I’d go with you, since, y’know,” Merlin trails off, not wanting to mention the fake aspect of their relationship when there’s people around.
Arthur grins. “Well, okay, if you insist,” he says.
Arthur looks as amazing as always when he picks Merlin up for the dance. He gives Merlin a little bouquet, and Merlin’s mum insists on taking pictures of them together, even though it’s not even a formal or anything. Merlin puts the flowers in water, except he snags two little white ones and sticks one behind his ear and one behind Arthur’s, which makes Arthur look even cuter.
Merlin is an absolutely terrible dancer, but Arthur is impressively worse, so Merlin doesn’t feel embarrassed about his horribleness. Gwaine takes a video with his phone and says it’s for future blackmail purposes, and Gwen says, “Don’t believe him, you’re both great!” except she can’t get through the whole sentence with a straight face.
Nobody can be bad at slow dancing, though, and Merlin loves the slow songs because Arthur holds him nice and close, and smells as amazing as always. They dance together for all of them but one, when Arthur is in the bathroom, and Gwen grabs Merlin’s right hand and starts waltzing with him instead.
“Gwen, I’m supposed to lead,” Merlin tries to protest, as Gwen puts his hand on her shoulder.
“I saw you dancing earlier,” Gwen says. “I’m not letting you lead.”
Merlin can’t really argue with that.
“So, are we going to have a big dramatic moment at the dance?” Gwen asks.
“Nope,” Merlin says. “I’m just going to let this farce slip slowly away from me, and then go back to pining after Arthur from afar. Except this time, I’ll know for sure how caring and romantic and amazing he is.”
“I’m really sorry,” Gwen says quietly.
“Yeah, me too,” Merlin says. “I mean, I knew this was a bad idea, I just didn’t know how much of a bad idea.”
Gwen squeezes his hand. “I’ve already stocked up on ice cream,” she promises.
“Thanks,” Merlin says. He glances over Gwen’s shoulder. “Arthur’s coming.”
Arthur taps on Gwen’s shoulder. “May I cut in?”
Gwen hands Merlin over, and makes a sad face at Merlin behind Arthur’s back.
Merlin shrugs in return, and dedicates himself to trying to enjoy the last little bit of his “relationship”.
The day of the presentations comes around far too soon. Merlin is sulking in the back of his calculus class when his phone buzzes. He checks it.
The text is from Gwen and it says, COME TO SOC CLASS RIGHT NOW OMG.
Before Merlin has a chance to text back, three more texts from Gwen come in.
Gwen: OMG MERLIN
Gwen: YOU NEED TO SEE THIS
Merlin can’t quite guess the tone of Gwen’s message. Is it a horrified OMG or an ecstatic one, or somewhere in between? He leaves the classroom while texting, much to his teacher’s annoyance.
Merlin: In a good way or a bad way?
Gwen: IN A GREAT WAY
Gwen: I think?!?
Merlin breaks into a jog.
The sociology classroom is packed full - spectators are always welcome for the social experiment presentations, because people who aren’t in the class often participate in them.
Or … not like Merlin? As Merlin squeezes into the back of the classroom, he can hear Arthur saying something about his social class, and the title of his powerpoint is something about being a janitor, and Arthur is not saying a single word about what it was like to pretend to be gay and in a relationship with another guy.
But… if Merlin isn’t Arthur’s experiment, why did Arthur ask him out?
Arthur catches sight of Merlin and beams at him. It’s such an open, infectious smile that Merlin can’t help smiling back.
Is Merlin dating Arthur Pendragon?
AM I DATING ARTHUR PENDRAGON???? Merlin texts Gwen.
I THINK YOU ARE, Gwen texts back. She also turns around in her seat and gives Merlin two thumbs up.
Merlin waves off the thumbs up and texts frantically.
Merlin: HOW DID THIS HAPPEN
Merlin: WHY DID HE ASK ME OUT???
Merlin: HOW AM I DATING ARTHUR PENDRAGON????????????
Gwen: because you’re amazing
Gwen: just the way you aaaareeeee
Gwen: now stop texting me and listen to Arthur like a supportive boyfriend
Merlin: … WAIT ARE WE BOYFRIENDS
Gwen puts her phone away. Merlin stares at his in horror for a few more seconds, and then he notices that Arthur is looking at him and frowning in concern. He gives Arthur a reassuring smile, and then turns bright red because it occurs to him that Arthur, his real possibly-boyfriend, is looking at him.
Arthur winks at him and keeps talking about how terribly society treats people in lower social classes.
Merlin leans on the classroom wall and watches his very cute boyfriend (!!!) be compassionate and intelligent.
(Afterwards Arthur asks Merlin what he thought, and Merlin says it was amazing and then tugs Arthur closer to kiss his boyfriend and Arthur kisses back. Wow.)
Merlin obviously needs to tell Arthur, but he doesn’t want to do it in school in front of everyone, in case Arthur gets upset, or in case he spectacularly dumps Merlin, or something. (Which. Is that a possibility? Merlin tries putting himself in Arthur’s shoes and imagining his boyfriend telling him he’d just been pretending to date him for a month. Yeah. Merlin thinks being dumped is definitely a possibility.) Despite his apprehensions, Merlin is going to tell Arthur as soon as possible, because waiting will definitely just make everything worse, so he resolves to tell Arthur at the very start of their date that night.
Arthur says he’ll pick Merlin up at seven, and that he’s taking Merlin somewhere special to celebrate. Merlin probably should have inquired further (celebrate what, exactly?) but Merlin is actually really nervous about this talk, and then either his first break-up or his first (sort of) date with a real boyfriend. So he doesn’t pick up a single clue until Arthur gives him a little wrapped box when he comes to Merlin’s house to pick him up.
“Happy monthiversary,” Arthur says.
“Oh my God,” Merlin says. “It’s - our - right. I’m so sorry, I didn’t get you anything!”
“That’s all right,” Arthur says. “It’s kind of silly, I guess.”
“No, it’s not, I totally would’ve, it’s just - well - er, we need to talk.” Merlin winces as soon as he feels those words come out, and nearly yells, “Not in a bad way!”
This doesn’t stop Arthur from looking very wary.
“Well, I hope you won’t think it’s too bad,” Merlin says. “Hopefully more along the lines of something we’ll laugh at for years to come!”
“That doesn’t sound terrible,” Arthur says, smiling into Merlin’s eyes, and Merlin realizes he took that as laughing together, and he smiles hugely back, because that sounds great.
“Maybe we should sit down?” Merlin says, gesturing at his porch steps, and they both sit.
Arthur puts an arm around him.
“Okay,” Merlin says, trying to figure out a good place to start. “Okay. So, remember, um, when my mum said I had a huge crush on you since primary?”
“The since primary part is news,” Arthur says, grinning. “But, yes.”
“Right,” Merlin says. “It may not have been a total lie. In fact, it may have been a slight understatement.”
“Aw,” Arthur says, bumping Merlin’s knee with his own.
“And I’ve really liked going out with you this past month, and I still have a huge crush on you,” Merlin says.
“I have one on you too,” Arthur says.
Merlin turns red. Redder. “Yes,” he says, “Which is kind of weird! You’re popular, and smart, and, and - ” He runs out of words and just gestures at, like, all of Arthur, which Merlin thinks is a pretty good point in and of itself. “And I’m, well, kind of weird and not the kind of guy someone like you would have a crush on!”
Arthur tries to interject, but Merlin holds up a hand and he stops.
“So,” Merlin says, and takes a deep breath. “So you can maybe kind of see why, when the perfect, gorgeous, presumed straight star of the football team asks the weird gay boy to go out with him on the day the social experiments start, I might jump to certain conclusions?”
Arthur’s quiet for all of three seconds, then he realizes. “You thought this was fake?”
“I wanted it to be real!” Merlin says. “And if I’d known it was real, I would’ve still said yes and acted exactly the same, except maybe with a lot more bragging about my really awesome boyfriend. And. I’d like it if we could keep dating, now that I know, but … I get it if it’s too weird for you.”
Merlin looks at Arthur hopefully. Arthur’s frowning in thought, but his arm is still around Merlin, which is probably a good sign. Right?
“It is kind of weird,” Arthur says finally. “But I really, really liked dating you when you were just faking it-”
“I wasn’t -!”
“And I bet I’ll like it even more when we’re both in it for real.”
Merlin surges over and plants a kiss on Arthur’s lips. Arthur kisses back, and Merlin can feel his smile.
When they draw away, Arthur asks, “It’s not too weird for you, though, right? I mean, what with your enormous crush on me, fake dating me must have sucked.”
“Sort of,” Merlin admits. “But real dating you will totally make up for it.”
“Aw,” Arthur says. “One thing, though.”
“What?” Merlin asks.
Arthur snatches back the present from Merlin’s hands. “You don’t get this until we’ve been going out for a month, for real.”
Merlin laughs. “Sounds fair.”
Arthur stands up and offers a hand to Merlin. “Come on, we’re going to miss our reservation.”
Merlin takes the hand and lets Arthur pull him up. As they walk together to Arthur’s car, Arthur says, “You’re right.”
“About what?” Merlin asks.
“I can definitely picture us laughing about this for years,” Arthur says.