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Learning Curve

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“Men are pig-headed insensitive jerks!”

Merlin looked up at one of his best friends as she walked into his room. Guinevere Smith stomped around his room like a raging tiger. Strands of her curly brown hair hung loose around her and her fists her clenched in front of her. ¶“Uh, I’m sorry,” he said uncertain.

“Why do I let myself get pulled in like this?” she asked, almost to herself. “It’s the same thing every time. Just once, I’d like for something in my life to go right when it comes to men!”

“Am I part of that equation?”

She smiled at him reassuringly.

“Never in a million years, Merlin,” she said.

Merlin smiled back and set his guitar down. No way was he going to write a score with her on the rampage, but emotional Gwen was a ton of inspiration on his part. She led a much more exciting life than he did.

“Tell me about it,” he said.

Exasperated, and finally exhausted from her anger, she flopped down on Merlin’s bed.

“I was going to see Richard…”

“Uh oh, that doesn’t start well,” said Merlin. Richard was Gwen’s boyfriend of six months. Merlin met him a couple of times and didn’t like the guy. Maybe it was because he gave Merlin heated looks every time Gwen talked to him, or maybe it was because Merlin caught him eyeing every pretty girl in the room. Either way, Merlin thought him a jerk.

“I was going to surprise him because he’s been working so hard on his drama exams,” said Gwen. “I came with his favorite pastries and everything. I walked in and found the house empty, which was strange because he said he would be home studying all day but…”

“But?” asked Merlin after a long pause.

“I heard a noise upstairs and followed it to his bedroom, and found them!”

“Them?”

“Richard and Morguase! Doing the bedroom mamba!”

Merlin gaped at her. He knew Richard was a douche, but he didn’t expect for him to flat out cheat on Gwen.

“Oh God, Gwen, sorry doesn’t even cut it,” he said.

She waved him off.

“I knew what he was like but I didn’t want to see it. I’m a sucker for hot guys in jockey uniforms.”

“Apparently so is Morgause,” said Merlin under his breath.

“And his acting was flawless! He would definitely win an Oscar if he ever became an actor.”

“What do you mean if?”

“Please, like a guy like that’s ever going to be an actor. His routine is good, but his morals are a lot of trash. How he got into Albion is beyond me.”

Merlin smiled at his friend. Both Merlin and Gwen were students of Avalon College, Merlin in music and Gwen in fashion design. Their other friend Will was also in the college but studying to be a computer graphics designer. All three had been friends since middle school and despite their academic differences they had remained friends.

“Who died?” asked Will Farmer walking into Merlin’s room and sat on Merlin’s chair, his chest resting on the back.

“Richard cheated on Gwen with Morgause,” said Merlin filling his friend in.

“Shit, Gwen, that sucks,” said Will in shock looking at her. She just shrugged.

“No loss,” she said. “He wasn’t even that good. Merlin could have given him some pointers.”

“Not in a million years,” said Merlin as both his friends laughed.

“You want us to beat him up?” asked Will.

Gwen shook her head.

“No, I’m fine,” said Gwen. She turned to the door. “Well, we better get to class, now that our ride’s here.”

Merlin and Will turned to look at each other. They would plan their own version of revenge on Richard later without Gwen knowing. Merlin jumped off his bed, put his guitar in a case, grabbed his backpack and ran after his friends as they walked out. They crowded into Will’s beat up pickup and drove to Avalon. During the rive they sang along with the stereo and laughed at every wrong note.

They pulled up to the campus parking lot and got out.

“Meet for lunch,” asked Merlin.

“Of course,” said Gwen and she turned to Will. “Merida coming?”

“Yes, she has some genius ideas for this computer program that can…”

“Save it, Will,” said Merlin laughing. “You know we can never understand all that gobbily-goop.”

“I’ve tried to explain it to you,” said Will crossing his arms.

“And we’ve told you we can’t understand a word you’re saying,” said Gwen and gave him a one armed hug. “Still love you through.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Will dismissive but with a smile. Will and Gwen used to date and high school and everyone thought they would be getting married, but they broke it off near the end of senior year and remained friends. It surprised everyone, but not Merlin. He could tell that their relationship would never go past friendship but he never pushed them to break up. He let them make that discovery on his own.

“Well, see you at lunch,” said Merlin. He leaned over and kissed Gwen on the kiss. “Stay strong, girl.”

“I will,” said Gwen.

They separated and went to their different classes. On Mondays, Merlin mostly had literature classes. Professor Gaius was a great teacher that Merlin loved to learn from. He didn’t drone on and on about the subject but encouraged the students to immerse themselves in it. Merlin learned a lot from him in just half a semester.

The only bad part about the class was Arthur Pendragon, Avalon College’s most popular male student. Unlike Merlin and his friends who got in on scholarship and had to keep at least an A minus on test scores, Arthur’s father paid his sons way through by donating a wing to the school. Captain of the college’s varsity soccer team, he was going for a business major so it surprised everyone that he was minoring in literature.

Merlin sat in a seat that wasn’t in the back but not near the front either. As much as he liked Gaius’ class, he didn’t want to be made into a teacher’s pet. He looked around to see most of the students talking, or texting on their smart phones or socializing on their iPads or laptops. Merlin just pulled out a book and started reading. Some would say Le Morte d’Arthur was too hard of a read, but Merlin found it a very good one. Sir Thomas Malory’s views of Camelot were almost the forerunner of all Arthurian legend. Everything used nowadays was in some part inspired by this book.

The door opened and Merlin looked up in time to see Arthur walk in with all the swagger of a spoiled rich kid. He was flanked by his two friends and fellow soccer players, Lancelot and Gwaine. Merlin actually liked Gwaine and Lancelot a bit. They weren’t bad guys. Just hung out with the wrong crowd.

Merlin tried to not admire the way Arthur looked. He had to admit the man was a very good specimen of manhood. His arms were definably muscled. Not built like a body builder or a wrestler, but in an athletic kind of way. His blonde hair was actually wavy and his eyes were a clear sky blue.

Okay, so Merlin may have a tiny crush on the guy. What self-acclaimed homosexual wouldn’t. The guy was a walking Adonis. Most of the female population, and some of the men, lusted after him.

Merlin wasn’t stupid like some of Arthur’s admirers. Arthur was as straight as they came and was going out with one of the hottest women on campus. Sophia Cooper. Every guy and some of the girls, wanted to go out with her. She hung out with a group of the most gorgeous, and snobbiest girls, on campus. Her best friend was Vivian Thibodaux. Everyone knew that Vivian had a massive crush on Arthur and was just looking for the perfect opportunity to squeeze between the ideal couple.

The door opened again and everyone turned to see Gaius walk in, an old crack leather satchel under his arm. Unlike some of the professors at Avalon College who wore freshly ironed black designer suits, Gaius always looked like he threw something on. Today it was a blue button down shirt and blue jeans and he wore black loafers. Merlin didn’t know of anyone who wore loafers. He guessed they were comfortable. He closed his book and placed it back in his backpack before taking out his text book.

“Everyone, turn to page 130 and we’ll discuss the fascinating history of Edger Allen Poe…”

For the next two hours Merlin listened and wrote notes as the rest of the students around him meandered in their chairs. Only two other people were actually trying to hear what Gaius was saying.

Merlin glanced down at Arthur. The young man was texting on his phone as his two friends wrestled with each other in their chairs. Shaking his head, he went back to his text book. Why was he even in college if he cared nothing for learning anything?

Class ended and Merlin went to his second morning class. At lunch, he met up with Gwen and Will at the quad and they sat down in the shade of a tree to eat.

“God, I hate Professor Nimueh,” said Gwen. “She’s so…urgh!”

“That’s descriptive,” said Merlin chuckling.

“She gave us a project. We’re supposed to design a costume for a renaissance fantasy. She wants us to think ‘outside the box’. How the hell am I supposed to do that?! How many ways are there to design a fifth century ball gown?”

“You’ll figure it you,” said Will. “And it will be awesome.”

“Yeah, it will be,” said Gwen grinning.

“Have you seen Richard today?” asked Merlin as he ate his sandwich.

“No, and I’m hoping to not ever see him again.”

“Does he even know you saw him?” asked Will.

“No, but he will soon enough.”

Will and Merlin looked at each other with a grin as Gwen at her salad. Richard would pay for hurting their friend.

The form of revenge came later in the day. Flyers fell from the college roof, each plastered with Richard’s face and the words; Looking for a good time? Give me a call. It included Richard’s phone number. It also included a resume with numbers of every girl he had slept with, some of them while dating Gwen. By the time school ended all three were grinning as Richard tried to save his dignity.

Merlin had also written the evasive lyrics he needed for the score he was working on. The lyrics, along with the score, made for a pretty good song and he couldn’t wait to apply it, but he needed to go to his job.

Merlin worked in the illustrious Camelot hotel and restaurant. He worked as a waiter and a bellhop. Depending on the generosity of the clients, he may get a five dollar tip, if he was lucky.

One of the people he worked with was Mordred le Fay. He was also on the soccer team with Arthur and his group of muscle bound jockeys, and he gave Merlin the creeps. Everywhere Merlin went, Mordred seemed to pop up. And the eyes he gave Merlin, like he was stripping Merlin with his gaze alone, made Merlin hightail it in the other direction.

Today he was a bellhop. He carried luggage up and down stairs as clients checked in or checked out, and the whole time avoided Mordred as he did.

“Mordred alert,” said Anna, one of the maids as Merlin pushes a tray of leftover dinner dishes for the hotel guests in the kitchen. Most of the hotel staff knew how Mordred crept Merlin out and tried to give him warning, and some didn’t care.

“Thanks, Anna,” said Merlin and hurried out before Mordred caught sight of him, but not fast enough.

“Hello, Merlin,” said Mordred, freezing Merlin in place. Merlin turned and gave him a not so friendly smile.

“Hello, Mordred,” he said. “Torture any small animals lately?”

Mordred chuckled.

“Merlin, your humor escapes me,” he said. “Are you doing anything tonight?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact.” It was only his homework, but Mordred didn’t need to know that.

“Perhaps I can come along.”

“Afraid not, private party. Excuse me.”

He walked toward the hallway. A hand grabbed his elbow and he turned to see Mordred looking at him in a predatory way. ¶“One day, you won’t say no to me,” he said.

“Is that a threat, le Fey? Cause then I can write you up for harassment. Now let go of my arm.”

“As if I’m afraid of the sorry excuse this hotel calls management. The Pendragons stay up in their ivory towers, not a care in the world, and leave the little things to us common folk. Do you think they care if the maid got harassed by a busboy? It’ll just ruin their perfect day.”

Merlin knew Mordred was right, but he doesn’t voice it. And he was never more grateful to the cook when she yelled out Mordred’s order and he walked off rather than get in trouble.

Merlin ran out of the kitchen as fast as he could.

TBC

Chapter Text

Arthur sat in the hard plastic chair in the college cafeteria. It wasn’t the most comfortable chair in the world, in fact his ass was numb after the first five minutes, but he refused to move and let people know how uncomfortable he was. All around him were his friends and fellow soccer mates. Next to him was Sophie with her best friend Vivian gushing over a celebrity magazine. Sophie sat so close to Arthur that he could barely move his chair.

He picked at his meatloaf, wondering what exactly the meat was that was in it. It didn’t say “Meatloaf Surprise” so he guessed it was normal hamburger. He prayed it was normal hamburger.

He looked around the cafeteria. Everywhere he looked friends were talking and laughing and studying together. His friends talked around him, even included him in, but they didn’t hold his attention for long.

He looked over to a table and saw Merlin Emrys, Gwen Smith and Will Farmer sitting around a table, talking in between reading, drawing or typing on a computer. Gwen squealed and all but shoved a sketch book between Merlin’s nose and a book he was read. Merlin looked at the sketch and spoke something to Gwen with a smile and Gwen beamed.

Arthur wondered what it would be like to have a friendship like that. He didn’t doubt his friends, but more than once he had had so-called friends that only used him for his money. Because of that, he didn’t know if he could fully trust the people he associates with.

The five men around him he knew he could trust. The first time he met Lancelot, Arthur had gotten into a scuffle near his school. Lancelot helped him get out of it and they had been best friends ever since. Gwaine helped them get into a bar at sixteen. He was in Arthur’s school on scholarship and was on the same soccer team as Arthur and Lancelot. Percival, Leon and Elyan are in the same soccer team as the other three and sort of migrated toward Arthur.

Arthur had been rich his whole life and while he was sometimes a spoiled brat, he was not arrogant or inconsiderate. He did know the difference from right and wrong and tried to be a good person.

He looked over at Merlin again. He had seen the man working at his father’s hotel and in the four years that they had known about each other, Arthur only associated with him twice, and bother during functions hosted in the hotel. The only time he spoke to Merlin was to order more drinks or tidbits to eat.

“Did you hear about what happened to Richard’s Lamborghini?” said Sophie aghast.

“No, what happened?” asked Arthur.

“Somebody beat it till there wasn’t a dent on it, scratched the paint and torched it,” said Vivian, also astonished.

Arthur looked at them in shock. Lamborghinis were stupidly expensive. Each one was made to order. Richard treasured his sleek black vehicle more than anything even though he owned four in different colors.

“Personally, I think it was Gwen Smith,” said Sophie looking over at the table where the three friends were. “Everyone knows only trailer trash would ruin something so expensive without a thought of the owner.”

“Hey!” said Elyan. It wasn’t hard for him to overhear given how loudly both girls were talking. “That’s my sister, Cooper.”

“Well, you need to choose your family more carefully,” said Sophie. “Girl is all kinds of whacko.”

THWACK!

Everyone in the cafeteria looked over at their table. Elyan was furiously glaring at Sophie in what Arthur would have guessed as murderous intent.

“Keep up the smack talk and you’ll see how whacko my family is,” Elyan said.

Standing he stomped out of the cafeteria, all eyes on them. Arthur stole a glance at the three friend’s table and saw Gwen watch after her brother with worried eyes. Merlin wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. Gwen smiled at him and they got up to follow Elyan out. Arthur watched them exit the room before turning back to Sophie.

“That was uncalled for,” he said.

“Well, it’s true,” said Sophie. “Can’t blame me for stating the truth.”

Arthur couldn’t believe this girl. She was the live version of a bubble headed blonde.

“Hey, Arthur, do you have any plans for tonight,” asked Lancelot before Arthur’s headache turned in to a full blown migraine.

“No, why?” asked Arthur.

“I was wondering if you wanted to have a guy’s night out. There’s this bar on Princeton that I think you would like. Live music every Friday night.”

“Su--”

Sophie cleared her throat, loudly, and Arthur looked at her.

“What?”

“Shouldn’t you be asking me if you want to have a night with your friends,” she said not looking up from her miniscule salad.

Gwaine huffed a laugh.

“What are you, his goddamn keeper,” he asked. She glared at him.

“No, I’m his girlfriend, which means there are certain things he can’t do without my permission.”

“Yeah, but spending a night with his friends isn’t one of them. Last I checked there was no ring on his finger or leash and collar around his neck.”

Arthur nearly choked on his drink and he turned to his friend red faced.

“Gwaine!” he said in shock.

“Hey, don’t knock till you’ve tried it,” said Gwaine. Beside him, Percival was desperately trying to hide bush on his face. Arthur really didn’t want to visualize what his friends did on their down time.

Sophie glared at Gwaine with an intensity that Arthur thought that if looks could kill, Gwaine would be rolling in flames by now.

“It’ll only be a matter of time till there will be a ring on my finger, unlike some people at this table,” she said.

That was enough for Arthur and jerked his arm from under her hand.

“That’s enough, Sophie,” said Arthur looking at her sternly. “Gwaine’s right. You are just my girlfriend, and even if you were more than that, you don’t control every aspect of my life. If I want to hang out with friends without telling you, I’m allowed to. You can’t stop me.”

He turned to Lancelot with a softer look but the anger was still evident in his eyes.

“I’ll meet you there tonight,” he said. “Text me the address.”

“Will do,” said Lancelot and Arthur walked out of the room. Sophie watched him in shock before turning to Vivian.

“Can you believe that?” she said. “How he dismissed me?”

“Put a sock in it, girls,” said Leon before finishing his meal. Both looks at him shocked.

“No respect,” said Sophie. “Vulgar low class.”

“Totally,” said Vivian.

Both stood and left the table. The men sigh in relief.

XXXXXX

Gwen, Merlin and Will hurried after Elyan as he walked down the hall. They didn’t hear what had happened at the Round Table, as the three had called the table where Arthur and his friends sat at as if they were the royal court of Avalon.

The three had been silently celebrating Gwen’s break up with Richard. While she loved her friend’s act of vengeance for her, she felt the need to avenge herself and so they helped her while Richard was visiting one of his favorite nudie bar. Merlin easily hotwired the car and they drove it under the London Bridge where the homeless make their shelters at for the night. Taking a Louisville Slugger, a pocketknife and spare key, they gleefully reenact her favorite Carrie Underwood song. And last, just for good measure and because she felt like it, she torched it. In the end the only thing left when the firefighters got to it was the frame and the license plates.

Of course the police had come to her house as soon as Richard pinned her as a suspect but Merlin and Will quickly alibied her with movie night and said they watched One for The Money. The even provided a receipt for a pizza they ordered a half hour before the incident. Suffice it to say, they were ruled out and since they flames burned away any evidence of their involvement the police had to look for other suspects, meaning Richard’s other numerous girlfriends. When the police left they laughed their asses off at getting away with it.

“Elyan, wait,” called Gwen as she caught up with her brother. Elyan kept walking. Gwen grabbed his arm. “Wait!”

“Let me go, Gwen,” said Elyan jerking his arm from her.

“Elyan, what’s happened?” asked Gwen.

Merlin looked between brother and sister. Both became close after losing their father the year after Gwen went to college. Their mother had died in a car accident when Gwen was young so Gwen barely remembered her. Merlin thought nothing could drive a wedge between the two but looking at them now, he wasn’t so sure of that.

“Just leave it alone, Gwen,” said Elyan sternly.

“No,” said Gwen just as sternly. Both glared at each other before Elyan looked away with a huff.

“Sophia,” he said, summing it all up in one word.

“What did the bitch say this time?” asked Merlin.

“Same old thing. Gwen and I are trailer trash that are here because of pity. Call Gwen a slut, put down Gwaine and Percival, boasted about marrying Arthur. That sort of thing.”

“What did Arthur do,” asked Will.

“Nothing.”

That Merlin believed. The three didn’t know how Elyan could be friends with the spoiled brat but Elyan keeps trying to convince them that Arthur isn’t such a bad person. They wouldn’t know about that. Arthur never made his presence known in the Smith home and they never saw him outside of Avalon and Camelot where he ruled with a swagger of a prince.

“You know Sophia spews out one end and craps in the other,” said Merlin. “You shouldn’t listen to everything she says. She’s just a dumb blonde playing cheerleader.”

“Merlin’s right, Elyan,” said Will. “You’re smarter than anyone at that table. Before you know it, you’ll be a business manager and they’ll still be acting like they’re in high school cheering a rugby game.”

Gwen giggled and looked at her brother.

“I never cared about what people think, ‘Yan, you know that,” she said.

Elyan nodded.

“I know.”

“Then why do you make a big deal out of it? It’s nothing we haven’t heard before. We’ve heard it our whole lives. Just ignore it, okay?”

Elyan nodded. Like Merlin and Will, Gwen and Elyan were used to being made fun off because of lack of money or because they were smarter than the rest of the kids. They’ve learned to ignore the taunts and to stick together. Nothing could penetrate their circle.

“Come on, bro,” said Gwen taking Elyan by the arm. “Eat with us.”

Elyan smiled at them and followed them back to the cafeteria. Grabbing food they walked out and sat on the grass. The rest of the time was spent talking and laughing.

XXXXXX

Arthur pulled out a light blue shirt from his closet, pulled it on and tucked it in. Going to his bathroom he styled his hair till it was just right. Of course everything about him was perfect, but it did take some work.

When he knew he was done he grabbed a denim jacket and slung it over his shoulder. Walking out of his room he passed his father’s study before walking down the stairs.

“Bye, Andrew. Bye, Gladys,” he said to the butler and the maid before he left. Lancelot was waiting in the driveway texting on his phone. “Who are you texting?”

“My cousin,” said Lancelot. “It’s his birthday next week and I’m asking what he wants.”

“Just give him a hundred bucks, no big deal,” said Arthur. Lancelot gave him a look.

“That’s too impersonal,” he said. “I want to give him something from me.”

“Are you on something?”

Lancelot huffed.

“No. I just want to do something nice for my cousin. Is that so wrong?”

Arthur shrugged. “Still don’t see the reason. Give them money and they can buy their own present. No thinking about it.”

Lancelot frowned at his friend. In the whole time he had known Arthur, money was his solution to everything, as if it was a fix all. He couldn’t tell how much money he got from Arthur for birthdays or Christmas. The rest of his friends actually think of something he could want, granted Gwaine’s turn out more sexual than anything but it was the thought that counts. Elyan even gave Lancelot new shin guards for Christmas since his were worn down. He used them for every game that season.

Lancelot put the car in reverse and drove out of the Pendragon driveway. 80s rock pounded through the radio as they drove toward the bar. At first Arthur thought Lancelot took a wrong turn because the building they pulled up to did not look like any of the clubs they go to. It was slightly grungy with a ramshackle appearance. The people walking in definitely didn’t look like people Arthur would associate with.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Albion Bar,” said Lancelot. “Elyan brought me here a couple of time. It’s a great place.”

“It looks like a hellhole.”

“It looks like a bar,” said Lancelot. “And it’s Friday so they have a live band.”

“Live band?” said Arthur in shock. “Who? Led Zepplin? Metallica?”

“Uh, no,” said Lancelot. “The owner’s godson has a band and is allowed to play here every Friday for a small fee. I heard them once. They’re actually very good.”

“Oh, God, it is a hellhole,” said Arthur exasperated.

“Hey, give it a chance,” said Lancelot. He opened the door and got out. He looked at his friend through the open door. “You might be surprised.”

As Lancelot closed the door Arthur seriously considered walking back home, but he didn’t want to get attacked and mugged. Opening the door he followed Lancelot into the door. A large man at the door that Arthur could only assume to be the bouncer was checking patron’s cards. He lingered on two blondes that looked younger than twenty.

“Move along,” he said tossing the cards in a trash bin behind him.

“Hey! Those are our cards,” said one of the blondes. “We’re twenty-two.”

“They were fakes,” said the man. “Now move along before I call the cops.”

Both girls glared at him before walking away. As they passed Arthur he heard them whisper.

“How the hell did he know they were fakes? I bought the best.”

“This totally sucks.”

Arthur laughed softly. Obviously they weren’t the best if they were caught. Soon, Lancelot and Arthur were in front of the burly bouncer.

“Hey, Rhys,” said Lancelot handing him his card. “How’s it going tonight? Did we miss the band?”

“Band starts in a few minutes, Lan,” said Rhys looking at it quickly before handing it back. “Gives you and your friend enough time to get something to drink.”

“Thanks, Rhys,” said Lancelot smiling and turned to Arthur. “Come on.”

They walked in and Arthur thought it couldn’t get any worse. It looked like one of those god-awful bars seen in movies. A counter in front of shelves of liquor bottles with two bartenders serving customers and tables everywhere. Some high stool and high tables were set along the wall and a stage on the other side of the room. There was already a drum set in front of it and an electrical keyboard.

“I’m in a nightmare,” he said looking around at the various objects on the wall. There was even a set of deer antlers.

“Open mind,” said Lancelot before going to the bar. “Kilgharrah, two beers.”

“Lancelot!” said a large man in a booming voice. His eyes narrowed at the sight of Arthur. “And who is this?”

“Kilgharrah, met Arthur Pendragon,” said Lancelot. “Arthur, meet Jerry Irons, but he’s more commonly known as Kilgharrah.”

“Why?” asked Arthur.

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” said Kilgharrah glaring at Arthur. The look gave Arthur the chills.

“Kilgharrah is ex-RAF,” said Lancelot. “He still won’t tell me what he did while he was enlisted.”

“Because if I did tell you, I’d have to kill you,” said Kilgharrah, his gaze softer at Lancelot than it was at Arthur.

“And yeah, he won’t tell me what his name means either.”

Kilgharrah reached down and pulled out two bottles of beer. With an expert twist he pulled off both caps and flicked them into the trash can before setting them in front of Lancelot and Arthur.

“There you go,” he said. “Hope you’ll stay for the performance. They’re doing a theme set today.”

“Oh? What’s the theme?” asked Lancelot setting down a ten dollar bill. Arthur was surprised by how cheap it was. At their usual hang outs the cheapest price was fifty dollars.

“Lying Cheating Bastard,” said Kilgharrah. “Supposed to be a sight to see.”

“We’ll see,” said Lancelot. “See you later, ‘Gharrah.”

“See ya, Lance.”

Lancelot handed a beer to Arthur and led him to a table near the stage. Arthur looked at the bottle suspiciously.

“It’s safe,” said Lancelot. “He didn’t’ poison it. He saves those for the people he truly hates.”

Arthur looked at him with a suspicious look before taking a sip of the beer. It wasn’t bad but not as good as some of the labels that he’s used to.

He was just relaxing when the sounds of a bass guitar sounded and everyone turned to the stage. Arthur nearly spat out his beer when he saw who was playing. Merlin, dressed in a navy blue shirt, ripped-kneed jeans and biker boots, was ripping through a guitar getting the attention of the audience and starting the first song. Gwen held a mic bouncing her head along as Will played the drums behind them.

“Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming!” she said. “We’re the Rejects and we’re here to entertain you. Whoo!”

She started to sing. She voice was good, keeping tempo with the drums and guitar and kept the audience hopping in their seats.

“You've been wearing that crown and tearing me down/It's been a while since you've treated me right/You strung me along for far too long cause I never gave up the fight/Until now

“It's gonna hit you hard 'til you see stars/It’s gonna put you through a world of hurt/Oh, I don't believe in getting even but giving what you deserve/Oh my, oh my, huh.”

“Mama always told me that I should play nice/She didn't know you when she gave me that advice/I'm through with you/You're one bridge I'd like to burn/Bottle up the ashes, smash the urn/I'm through with you, la dee da

I don't wanna be your "just for fun",/Don't wanna be under your thumb/All I wanna be is done/Done”

The audience was eating it up. Some were clapping along, some moved in their chairs to the beat. Arthur instead was captivated by the guitarist stroking the strings like the caress of a lover. The look on his face was beautiful and breathe taking.

Gwen sang the rest of the set, smash talking the man who wronged her, most likely Richard, and about getting back at him like a good Southern girl should in the American country style she was singing.

And when Merlin played his guitar solo, the crowd went nuts. Arthur didn’t know that Merlin could play guitar let alone play it like that. That man was incredible, and he was barely looking at the strings. He was playing it by memory.

Lancelot glanced at his friend and looked in surprise. Arthur had a predatory look on his face, and he only had that look when he was in pursuit of something, or more than likely someone. Following Arthur’s gaze, he saw that the object of Arthur’s gaze was none other than Merlin, Kilgharrah’s godson.

“Dude, don’t,” he said. Arthur gave him a confused look.

“Don’t what?” he asked.

“Don’t go there. That guy is off-limits. No joke.”

“Lance, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Arthur in a completely innocent tone of voice and took a sip of his beer. Lancelot hoped his friend would back off before someone, more than likely Merlin, got hurt.

TBC

Chapter Text

Merlin spotted Arthur and Lancelot sitting in the crowd as the Rejects played their set. He was at first startled that the Prince of Camelot was sitting in a dingy bar eating common name-brand beer. He luckily didn’t let his surprise show and continued to play the set.

During the second set he noticed the intense stare Arthur was giving him. If Arthur had been his kind of guy, Merlin would have sworn Arthur wanted him, but that wasn’t possible. Arthur was straighter than an arrow; his relationship with Sophia was attest to that. Why Arthur was looking at him like that was strange to him?

The next song started and Merlin didn’t even have to think on the notes. His fingers glided up and down the strings of his guitar. He knew the song by heart. He wrote it after all. It was an older song, one of the first he had written but it still had meaning to him. This was probably why he never threw it away and kept revising it until it became the song it was now.

“I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone./I crashed my car into the bridge. I watched, I let it burn./I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs./I crashed my car into the bridge.

"I don't care, I love it./I don't care.

"You're on a different road, I'm in the Milky Way/You want me down on earth, but I am up in space/You're so damn hard to please, we gotta kill this switch/You're from the 70's, but I'm a 90's bitch

"I love it!/I love it!”

Gwen sung the song perfectly, as always. She never missed a beat and could somehow change pitch. In one song she was an alto and the next a soprano. She was a talented singer but her dream was to go into fashion design. Merlin had no doubt that she would take the world by storm. Her designs were so detailed and modern that it would be impossible not to wear them.

They finished the song and waved as the audience applauded.

“Okay, everyone,” said Gwen in the microphone. “We’re going to take a short break to let the jukebox spin a bit. Everyone have fun and don’t forget to tip your waitress.”

A few customers laughed as Gwen hopped off stage and went to the bar where Kilgharrah set out three bottles of water for them. Merlin grabbed the nearest one, twisted off the top and took a deep drink.

“Did you see who’s here?” asked Kilgharrah.

“Yeah,” said Merlin looking over at Arthur’s table. Elyan had joined both jocks and they were laughing loudly.

“What’s he doing here?” asked Gwen annoyed.

“Paying,” said Kilgharrah. “And that’s all I care about. If he causes any trouble Rhys’ll throw him out.”

“Why did Lancelot bring him here?” asked Will. “This is our place. Why can’t he stay on his side of town and out of ours?”

“Let’s not think about him,” said Merlin. “Gwen, how is your project coming?”

“Slowly,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to have a portfolio for the next class. The assignments Nimueh give are impossible.”

Will patted her on the back.

“You’ll get it,” he said. Gwen groaned and depressed noise. Will turned to Merlin. “Do you still have that function to work for next Friday?”

“Yeah,” said Merlin with an exasperated sigh. The Pendragons were holding a charity function at the hotel ballroom, but Merlin knew it was just another way for them to look good for the papers. It was a masked ball and everyone was going to wear masks, even the servers. “Any chance you can bust me out of there.”

“Maybe you’ll meet Prince Charming,” said Gwen with a teasing tone and giggled at the deep blush on Merlin’s face.

Two months ago Merlin “met” someone at the school board’s chat room. They had never officially met in person but Merlin and he had been talking to each other ever since. Merlin knew it was a guy because of the way he wrote despite the deep philosophical connotations that popped up. The guy was a reader which was big in his book for the perfect partner. Merlin knew it was stupid but he was slowly falling for a guy he had never met.

His phone beeped and he dug into his pocket to dig it out. The name Excalibur flashed across his screen and he grinned. “Speak of the devil,” said Gwen as Merlin pulled up the message.

You’ll never guess where I’m at.

Merlin frowned a little as he typed.

Where?

Albion Bar.

Merlin gaped and looked around the bar, trying to spot his online friend but saw several people with their cellphones out and typing.

So am I!

Merlin looked up, hoping that someone would look around for him, but again a lot of people looked up from their phones. His phone beeped again.

Did you see the band? They are pretty good.

Merlin stifled a laugh.

I think they’re pretty good too.

I think the guitarist was amazing.

Merlin blushed a fierce red and his brain froze. His cyber friend thought he was amazing. He had seen Merlin and thought he was amazing.

“Uh, Merlin, still in there, man?” asked Will snapping his fingers at Merlin.

“I think he’s broken,” said Gwen worriedly.

“He thinks I’m amazing,” said Merlin in a daze.

“What?” asked Gwen surprised.

“He’s here, and he thinks I’m amazing.”

“Well, that’s a good thing, yeah,” said Will.

“But he doesn’t know who I am. He doesn’t know that it’s me on the stage. He just knows me as Wizard. He doesn’t know me.”

“Merlin, calm down, breathe,” said Gwen gently and Merlin did as she told him. When his heart rate sufficiently went down she spoke again. “Merlin, you’ve been talking to this guy for two months. You’ve told him a lot. Obviously he likes who you are or he wouldn’t still be talking to you.”

“But I haven’t told him that I’m…”

“Don’t you think you should? If you want to meet this guy one day, you’re going to have to tell him.”

Merlin looked down at his phone a fiddled with it.

“What if I don’t want to,” he said softly.

“Don’t want to what?” asked Will.

“Meet him? What if I tell him I’m gay and that scares him off? I could ruin one of the best things that happen in my life. Maybe this relationship’s better in cyberspace.”

“You don’t mean that,” said Gwen in surprise.

“Maybe I do.”

Gwen and Will looked at each other worried. Ever since Merlin had meet Excalibur they had never seen him so happy or animated. Merlin had finally found someone he could connect with and yet was worried on whether the man would reject or accept him.

“Merlin, that’s a chance all of us have to take,” said Gwen. “And no one deserves to be happy more than you.”

He scoffed as his phone went off again.

“What did he say?” asked Will.

“He asked why I didn’t reply back,” said Merlin typing. “I’m telling him I was talking with my friends.” He sent the message and turned back to them. “Next set?”

They nodded and hopped off their stools to go back to the stage, picking up their instruments and Gwen tapped the microphone to get the attention of the audience.

“Hello, everyone,” she said. “We’re back from our break and I hope you tipped your waitresses. Let us continue our set of Lying Cheating Bastard!”

The audience cheered and they started the next song. As with the theme of the bar, it was an American country song. Gwen lifted the microphone to her mouth and started to sing.

“I laid there feeling sorry for myself/In a bed of Kleenex/Stuffing chocolates in my mouth/On the phone with my best friend/Cussing my ex

He broke my heart/Felt like the world had ended/I cried myself to sleep/Thinking I can't get over him

Strange, talk about luck/I woke up and the sun was shining/Strange, I ought to be in bed/With my head in the pillow crying/Over us, but I ain't, ain't love/Strange.”

Again, Merlin felt eyes on him and he turned to find Arthur looking at him. Again, Merlin wondered why the blonde was paying so much attention to him.

Deciding to ignore the man, he continued to limit his world to the guitar in his hands and the music playing in his hand. The rest of the world faded away.

XXXXXX

Arthur’s phone vibrated over the music as the band paused and he picked it up to see the name “Wizard” flash across the screen. A smile spread on his face.

“Lover boy,” asked Lancelot teasingly. Arthur jabbed his elbow in his gut as he brought the message up.

Friends gave me a random question; If you got caught in a zombie apocalypse who would you take with you, a family member or a stranger?

Arthur looked at the question curiously. That was a random question. He typed back.

Watch a lot of zombie movies, do you?

His phone messaged back.

Hey, Zombieland rules!

Arthur laughed. He saw the movie a few times and liked it but it didn’t beat The Walking Dead. He texted back.

Stranger. My family’s dysfunctional as it is. Don’t need to add zombies to the mix.

I said I would save my mom. She’s the only family I have left.

What about your dad?

Died before I was born.

Arthur felt like he could kick himself. That was the most stupid question he had ever asked.

I’m sorry.

Don’t be. I never knew him. Mom talks about him all the time through. She misses him.

She never met anyone else?

Too busy raising me.

His answer was completely opposite of Arthur’s upbringing. His mother died giving birth to him and his father was too busy with his companies to give five minutes to his son. Instead he was raised by nannies that only cared about their next pay.

When he was younger his father had taken him to a cottage by a lake. There was an area around the lake that would lose all cell signals and for forty-five minutes Arthur had his father all to himself. But Arthur got older and Uther took over more companies. They stopped going to the lake and father and son grew apart.

Returning to his phone he typed his message.

What’s your mom like?

lol Like a mother.

I wouldn’t know. My mom died when I was born.

Oh. Sorry.

It’s all right. I didn’t know her and my father never talks about her.

There was a long pause, as if his friend was thinking over what to say to him.

Mothers are like sunshine. When they hug you, you feel all warm and safe and you know that you’re loved.

Not all mothers are like that though.

Arthur remembered hearing a story on the news where a mother beat her son to death. The reason was because the boy was hungry and wouldn’t stop crying. Arthur had been appalled after hearing it.

*True, but most mothers are. My mom loves me more than anything.

Arthur was glad his friend had a mother that loved him, and a little jealous. How did Arthur know that his mother loved him? He had never met her.

Then he remembered a photo he found at the bottom of a box in the attic. He had been hiding from his latest nanny not wanting to eat her disgusting veggie food when he decided to peruse the boxes around him. He found a box unlabeled and when he opened it he found pictures of his mother pregnant and sonograms. He also found maternity clothes and a teddy bear with a blue bow. Lastly he found a picture of Ygraine holding him, her face damp with sweat and she looked exhausted but there was the biggest smile on her face. He guessed it had been taken hours before she died.

Remembering the picture, he knew his mother wanted him and in the few hours of having known him, she loved him. The subject of his mother was a touchy one in the Pendragon household but from what he gleaned from the servants that worked while she was still alive, his mother was joyously anticipating his arrival, as was his father. It was only after Ygraine died that Uther turned into the workaholic he was now.

The band went up for another number and Arthur turned to watch. He noticed that Wizard didn’t talk during the band’s songs. He guessed it was because he liked the band.

“Why don’t you meet him?” asked Elyan.

“What?” asked Arthur turning to him.

“This Wizard guy. Why don’t you meet him? It’s been two months.”

“I’m not ready to meet him yet,” said Arthur. “I want to know if he’ll like me for who I am, not my money.”

“It’s been two months,” said Lancelot. “That should tell you if he likes you or not.” “And what about Sophie?”

Arthur paused at his so called girlfriend’s name. He didn’t know why he went out with her. She was a grade-A bitch. All she cared about was her looks and him on her arm as her eye candy. She was flaunting that she got the richest and handsomest guy on campus. Worse was when she tried to control everything he did, like earlier when he wanted to go out with his friends and she didn’t approve because she wasn’t included.

The only reason Arthur went out with her was because he couldn’t tell his father the truth. Arthur knew his father. If Arthur told him the truth then he could kiss his inheritance goodbye.

Not that Arthur wanted the money. He’d rather earn his money all on his own but until he could do that he needed his father’s money.

His phone vibrated and he looked down to see Sophia’s name flash across the screen.

“El diablo,” said Lancelot as Arthur answered.

“Hello?"

“Are you over your rebellion yet?” she asked.

“Who’s rebelling?”

“You know very well what I mean. You’ve had your fun so come home. Now.”

Arthur sighed as she hung up on him. He knew by the tone of her voice that she wasn’t asking. He turned to his friends to see their scrupulous faces.

“The hell bitch ordering you home?” asked Elyan.

“Yeah,” said Arthur draining the last of his beer. “Shame. They really are good.”

“Told you,” said Lancelot. “Need a ride?"

“Nah,” said Arthur pulling up a taxi service him and his father uses all the time. “You guys have fun. The rest is on me.”

“Sweet!” said Elyan. “Too bad Gwaine and Percival didn’t want to come. It turned into an interesting night.”

“It’s their date night,” said Arthur. “We’d be getting an eyeful if we walk in on them now.”

Lancelot and Elyan shuddered.

“No thanks,” Lancelot. “I love the guys, but if I see Gwaine’s hairy ass one more time I’m going to go permanently blind.”

“When did you see Gwaine’s hairy ass?” asked Elyan curiously.

“You do not want to know.”

This time all three friends shudder.

“I better go before I’m put through the Spanish Inquisition,” said Arthur. He turned to the bar. “Hey, Kilgharrah, the rest are on me.”

“No prob,” said Kilgharrah handing a beer to a customer before grabbing another.

Arthur grabbed his coat and with one last look at the band, and the cute guitarist, he left the bar.

TBC

Chapter Text

Merlin woke to a soft thud. Normally inaudible but Merlin trained himself to hear even the slightest sound. Immediately he was out of bed, not caring that he was only in his boxers, and ran out of his room. He ran down the stairs, nearly sliding on the threadbare rug on the bottom. 

“Mum!” he called.

Hunith Emrys knelt on the floor surrounded by smashed eggs. Her face was slightly flushed, a stark contrast to the faded cotton bathrobe she wore.

“Oh, Merlin,” she said with a shaky voice. “Did I wake you? I’m sorry. I was just about to make you breakfast.”

“Mum, you should be in bed,” said Merlin going to his mother and helping her up. He guided her around the egg shells to a chair.

“Nonsense, I have to work in an hour and I wanted to make my son breakfast. I haven’t for a long time.”

“Mum, you’re on remission. The doctor said no strenuous activity.”

Hunith scuffs.

“Strenuous activity. For goodness sake, Merlin. I’m making breakfast, not having sex."

“Ew! Mum!”

Merlin knew he was scolding her, but she had given him a scare. A couple of years ago, Hunith had become seriously ill, and they were still paying the hospital bills.

Hunith laughed at her son’s disgusted look.

“Oh, honey, where do you think you came from?” she laughed.

“The stork! The orphanage. I fell from the sky. Anything to keep me from thinking that. And now I have that image ingrained in my head! Bleach! I need bleach!”

Hunith laughed again.

“Such drama.”

Merlin went to the broom closet and got out the mop and bucket.

“I’ll clean up,” he said and went to the bathroom to fill the bucket with hot water in the tub. He put in some floor cleaner and went back to the kitchen to find his mother on the floor cleaning the eggs with a rag. “Mum!”

“Honestly, dear, you worry more than your father did when I was pregnant. I’m fine. A little cleaning isn’t going to kill me.”

Merlin sighed. He now knew where he got his stubbornness from. Setting the bucket near the mess he started mopping as Hunith started making pancakes with the eggs that were left. He had to admit he missed his mother’s cooking. Through Merlin was a good cook his mother was even better.

Ten minutes later they were enjoying pancakes with maple syrup and slices of apples. Merlin had a cup of coffee while Hunith a cup of tea. Both were dressed for work. Hunith worked in a veterinary clinic as a vet’s assistant. It was a Saturday so Merlin got to work earlier. When they were finished he picked up the dishes and put them in the rickety dishwasher. It still worked if Merlin kicked it just right. Other than that it worked just fine.

“When will you be home, honey?” she asked.

“Late,” he said. “I have to help get ready for the Pendragon’s charity benefit tomorrow night.”

“Oh, what’s this one for?”

“Funding for third world education,” said Merlin walking to the coffee machine to pour himself a cup. “But it’s just a hype for them to be in the papers. ‘Philanthropists’. More like ‘egotist’.”

“It’s still for a good cause,” said Hunith.

“The cause it to up their publicity.”

“You always see the worst in people.”

“People like them,” said Merlin angrily. “People who let Dad die and didn’t have the decency to admit it was their fault.”

Hunith sighed. How she wished Merlin had known Balinor but he had died a month before Merlin was born. He had been a construction worker and was happy with his job. He died after the scaffolding he was standing on collapsed and fell fifty feet, boards and pipes crushing him to death. Hunith was in too much shock to even see the body and the funeral was a closed casket. For a month Hunith was on autopilot. Getting up, going to work and going to bed. Her friends and family helped out and made sure she ate but other than that she was a zombie. The only thing that shocked her out of it was when she went in labor. If it hadn’t been for Merlin’s arrival, Hunith wouldn’t be here right now.

An hour later, Merlin walked into hotel’s restaurant. He picked up a platter bin to bus when Anna stopped him.

“Merlin, Carla called in sick. She got engaged and drunk last night, can you take her shift?”

“I keep her tips?” asked Merlin.

“Yeah, you deserve it. How’s your mum this morning?”

Merlin grabbed a waiter’s apron. “She had a dizzy spell and insists she’s fine."

“Well, a dizzy spell may just be a dizzy spell.”

Merlin laughed. “Thank you, Freud.”

Anna laughed with him.

“It’s still early, Merlin. She may be okay.”

“I pray that she is.”

Picking up an ordering pad, Merlin walked in to the restaurant. He groaned when he found his first table was with Arthur and his cronies plus his girlfriend and her cronies. Schooling his face to impassive he walked over.

“Good morning, Mr. Pendragon, what can I get for you this morning,” he asked.

“What can I get that has no sugar, no carbs and fat free?” asked Sophia.

Merlin paused for a moment.

“Hmm, water,” he said failing to suppress his snarkiness.

She glared at him.

“Are you making fun of me?” she asked. “Because if you are I can get you fired.”

“No, ma’am,” he said. He didn’t want to tell her that she couldn’t get him fired. “If you like, we can have the chef make you some crepes. We have a variety of fruit…”

“That’ll be all right if it’s all you got. Strawberries. Arthur, what would you like?”

“The pancake special, thank you, Merlin,” he said without even looking at the menu.

“Of course, Mr. Pendragon.”

“Arthur, please, Merlin, and where’s Carla?”

“Sick today. I’m taking over.”

“Can you tell her I hope she gets better soon?”

Merlin gives him a surprised look before nodding.

“I’ll do that, Mr…Arthur. Anything else?”

The rest of the group gave Merlin their orders and he wrote them down before walking off. As he walked into the kitchen his phone went off and he quickly took it out. It was from Excalibur.

I’m surrounded by people and yet feel alone. Wish you were here to keep me company.

He giggled a little before typing.

Wish you could save me. Just met the most horrid person.

He sent the message and it wasn’t long before he got a reply.

Do you have pie? You could shove it in their face.

He laughed.

LOL

He sent it. Going to the hot plate he gave his order and took an order to the table it ordered. When he finished he fished out his phone to read his message.

I wish I could hear you laugh. When can we meet?

Soon.

“Lover boy?” asked Anna as he picked up an order.

“Why do people keep calling him that?” asked Merlin exasperated. First Gwen and now Anna.

“Because every time you get a message from him, you get giddy. Honestly, Merlin, I’ve never seen you so happy.”

“I’ve never even met him.”

“So meet him,” said Anna as Merlin’s phone went off. “And turn it off. You’re at work.”

“Yes, boss,” said Merlin as he took his phone out.

How about tomorrow?

He typed back.

Where?

There was an instant reply.

I’m going to a charity even tomorrow night. I can get an extra ticket.

You can do that?

I have connections. If you agree, meet me in the middle of the dance floor at eleven. Masks are required so we have to wear something so we know who we are.

Merlin thought for a moment. What can they both wear that would stand out from the rest?

How about roses?

What color? Red is too cliché.

Blue.

Blue roses?

So? What’s wrong with blue roses?

Nothing. We’ll definitely stand out.

Merlin thought for a moment. Was he really agreeing to meet with Excalibur tomorrow? He remembered Gwen’s words on meeting with him. Why not? They got along well, at least in cyberspace, and had the same interests. Both of them could be really good friends.

Quickly, before his courage was lost to him. Merlin sent a quick reply before going back to work.

Okay. Tomorrow night. Eleven at the dance floor.

XXXXXX

Arthur stared at the response on his screen and grinned. He was going to meet Wizard! His stomach was suddenly tied up in knots. He didn’t know why he was nervous about meeting someone he had never officially met. And he wanted that more than anything. He wanted to meet Wizard, and possibly date him.

Arthur knew since he was a teenager that he was gay but he could never come out because of his father. Uther hated homosexuals to almost biblical proportions. He barely tolerated the gay staff members. If he found out his own son was gay he would have had a heart attack. Arthur wisely kept his mouth shut and had a girlfriend at least every three months to please his father. So far his father never knew the difference.

Sophia was the longest relationship he had with a woman. A full six months. They met at one of his father’s vacation business functions where he also met her father. Within three days she attached herself firmly to his hip and within a week and a half they were officially “dating.” Arthur just never bothered to correct her.

The only people who knew about Arthur’s sexual preference were Lancelot, Gwaine, Elyan and Percival and all four would rather die than betray Arthur. They had seen too many times in the locker the gay remarks coming from the rest of their teammates either in jest or in scorn. A former teammate came out during a practice and was immediately harassed until he was forced to quit the team, and left the college.

Arthur could never reveal his sexuality, just like he couldn’t tell his father the career he really wanted. Arthur struggled with the business degree his father wanted. While he had been immersed in business his whole life, it wasn’t something he wanted to do. He was more than happy to give the company to his half-sister Morgana and live the way he wanted, but his father was king of the castle. What he says goes and he told Arthur he was getting a business degree.

For years Arthur didn’t have anyone he could really talk to, until he met Wizard on the college chat room. He immediately knew he liked his new cyber friend and told him everything, spilling secrets he hadn’t even told Lancelot, such as what he really wanted to do with his life.

But to meet Wizard, he had to get rid of one thing, or person. Opening the door to the men’s room he walked back to the table and sat back down. Sophie was talking about the sweater Gwen was wearing at school yesterday, saying how tacky it was and that a decent woman wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it. Arthur didn’t have to look under the table to see Elyan’s hand clenched white. Elyan, like the rest of his friends, refused to hit a woman but the man did have a low tolerance for anyone making fun of his family. Arthur decided to rescue his friend.

“Sophie, can I speak to you for a moment, alone?” he asked.

“Arthur, you know anything you say you can say in front of my friends,” she said in her sophisticated obnoxious tone.

“Okay,” said Arthur, not really wanting to say it in front of her friends but it was better to get it over with than to have it linger. “I want to break up.”

“What?!”

The shriek in his ear was not something Arthur needed. Both of Sophia’s friends gaped with the same shocked expression as her and his friends grinned. Lancelot laughed.

“What did you say to me,” said Sophia.

“I said I wanted to break up.”

“Why the hell do you want to break up with me?”

“Do you want me to write a list?”

Sophia gasped in shock. A butler walked up to the table.

“Mr. Pendragon, your father wishes to see you,” he said.

“Did he say what about?” asked Arthur.

“No, sir.”

“Tell him I’ll be a few minutes.” The butler nodded and left. Arthur turned back to Sophia. “Soph…”

She held her hand up to silence him.

“Don’t,” she said. “Go see your father. I’ll ignore this lapse of stupidity and meet you at the benefit tomorrow. You’ll be fine as soon as you’ve cooled off. All right? And when everything is right, I want to talk to you about your choice of friends. I blame Gwaine and Percival.”

She didn’t even wait for him to answer. Just grabbed her bag and left, her two cronies following her. As soon as she left his friend erupted in laughter.

“Damn, man! That took balls,” said Elyan.

“And what was that about blaming me and Percival?” asked Gwaine. Percival sat next to him with an arm across the back of Gwaine’s chair, lightly rubbing his lover’s arm. “What have we done to you?”

“It’s not you, Gwaine, it’s me,” said Arthur grabbing his jacket as he stood. “I’ll go see what my father wants. Enjoy the rest of your meal. My tab.”

“Will you be okay?” asked Lancelot. Arthur smiled down at his friend in appreciation.

“I’ll be fine,” he said.

Walking to an elevator he took out a key, put it in the lock, turned it and pressed for the top floor where his father’s penthouse office was. Elevator music played as he waited for it to reach the top floor. He had to talk to his father about changing the music on the elevator.

Finally the doors opened and he walked into his father’s office. Immaculately furnished he walked into the entrance room where people would wait as he held meetings. Pictures of land and cityscapes hung in walls and vases on tables. A blonde secretary sat behind a desk typing furiously on a computer. She glanced up as he walked in.

“He’s expecting you,” she said without pause in her typing.

“Thanks, Virginia,” he said and walked to the door leading to his father’s office. He knocked sharply on the door.

“Enter, Arthur.”

Arthur entered his father’s office. Decorated the same as the entrance room Uther sat behind a desk looking over reports with a frown that said he was furious over something.

“You wanted to see me, Dad,” he said nervously.

“I just spoke to your teachers,” said Uther. “You’re failing your classes.”

“Just a few.”

“Business and Accounting, Hotel Management, political business. Those are not a few, Arthur. Those are serious classes. And don’t even get me started on your other classes. The one’s you insist on taking.”

“What’s wrong with my classes?” asked Arthur.

“American and British Literature, Creative Writing, Composition. Those are the classes of someone studying to be a publisher.”

“What do you care? I’m paying for those classes from my own money.”

“Which is my money that I give to you. I will not have you squander my money on frivolous pursuits.” Uther looked up at him with a stern stare. “I want you to get your grades up. I’m hiring you a tutor.”

“I don’t want a tutor!”

That at Uther more irritated.

“Fine, then I’m canceling your extracurricular activities.”

Arthur looked at him in shock.

“What?!”

“No more literature courses, no more soccer, no more going out with friends…”

“You can’t do this,” said Arthur with gritted teeth.

“I can and I will unless you will have a tutor.”

Arthur growled as he racked his brain on how to get around this. His father won’t stop until he got his way.

Then Arthur thought of something. The band Uther had scheduled for the benefit had canceled and he’d been unable to get another set up so far. Uther only scheduled prime bands but if Arthur played this right, if he could set it up in his favor.

“I will hire myself a tutor, if you do something for me,” said Arthur.

“What?” asked Uther.

“You need a band. I happen to know of one. I know the members. I can have them play for you tomorrow.”

“What’s the band?”

“The Rejects. I’ve heard them play and they’re very good.”

“Why should I use this band, these Rejects?” asked Uther.

“It’s a benefit to show how nice a family we are.” He shrugs. “Why not use an unknown local band?”

Uther paused in thought and Arthur knew he was weighting the pros and cons on having a band that’s doesn’t have a recording contract but Arthur knew Uther would agree. He needed a band desperately and would even use a local one.

“Very well,” he said. “Talk this band and tell them to set up at seven. The benefit starts at eight. Clear?”

“Yes,” said Arthur. “May I be excused?”

“Go.”

Arthur hurried out and tried to calm his breathing after he closed the door. He couldn’t believe that worked. He threw himself a lifeline and caught hold. Now all he needed to do was see it through.

TBC

Chapter Text

Of all the people Merlin would think he’d hear calling his name during work, Arthur Pendragon was not one of them. He turned around from the plate he was serving to see the blonde prince of Camelot walk up to him with a purpose. Everyone paused in their jobs to watch Arthur walk up to him.

“Anna, I’m going to borrow Merlin for a few minutes, okay,” he said.

“O-Of course, Arthur,” she said. She had been working in Camelot’s kitchen for twenty years and very rarely had Arthur came into the kitchen outside of his childhood.

“Thank you, Anna,” he said and turned to Merlin. “Come, Merlin.”

Merlin frowned at the authoritive tone in Arthur’s voice before following him outside of the kitchen and into the staff lobby. It was a small room with a few chairs and tables. There were even vending machines for snacks and sodas. Arthur turned to Merlin as the other man entered the room.

“Shut the door,” he said. Merlin did and put his hands in his pockets, watching Arthur expectantly. What was the other man up to? Why did he want to talk to Merlin for the first time in four years? “I want to hire your band.”

Merlin blinked in surprise.

“What?”

“I want to hire your band, but you have to do something for me.”

Merlin was still wrapping his head around the band part.

“Why do you want to hire my band?” he asked.

“The band my father hired canceled last minute,” said Arthur. “He needs another band or be forced to cancel the benefit.”

“Gee, that would be a loss,” said Merlin sarcastically but was forcing himself calm. If there was no benefit then he couldn’t meet Excalibur. He at first decided he was going to make some kind of excuse to Anna, switch tuxedos since waiters were to wear white tuxedos with white masks, pilfer a blue rose from one of the vases and get to the dance floor before eleven. If he was with the band, they could easily cover for him for a while when he goes to meet Excalibur. Plus the Pendragons would pay him more than the nickels and dimes Uncle ‘Gharrah was paying them. “What’s the favor?”

“I need you to tutor me.”

Merlin looked at him in confusion.

“Tutor?” he said. “Last I heard you were doing all right in Literature.”

“It’s not for Literature. It’s for Hotel Management.”

Merlin looked at him curiously.

“I’m not taking Hotel Management,” he said.

“No, but you know everything going on in a hotel. I need that experience.”

“Why not ask Anna or Nathan?”

“I’m asking you.”

Merlin sighed. He didn’t need this added to his schedule. It would take a lot out of his time. He couldn’t afford taking time off to tutor a prim socialite. He had his mother to think about and student loans to pay.

“I’m sorry but I can’t help you with the tutoring,” he said turning back to the door. “The band on the other hand I can do. Just let my boss know and we’ll set up tomorrow.”

“I’ll pay you,” said Arthur as Merlin’s hand reached the door. Merlin paused and turned back to him.

“What?”

“I’ll pay you for the tutoring.”

Merlin gaped at him.

“I just told you I’m not in Hotel Management. I can’t help you.”

“Then just come and watch me study, I don’t care, but I’ll pay you for any time off you take for the sessions.”

“Why me?” he asked. “Out of everyone in the hotel, why me?”

Arthur studied him for a moment before answering.

“Because you’re the only one I know that’ll not hold me back.”

Merlin scoffed a laugh. That was certainly true.

“I don’t think so,” he said turning back to the door.

“A thousand dollars.”

Merlin froze. Arthur just offered him a thousand dollars to tutor him. A thousand dollars would pay for his mother’s medical bills and his student’s loan. Merlin wasn’t a greedy person. Living from paycheck to paycheck taught a person to put needs first. They had been doing all right until Hunith got sick five years ago. Since then, everything had been going into medical bills and treatments.

Now Hunith was sick again, which meant more bills and more treatments. A thousand dollars would go a long way to paying for those, and while he was at it, Merlin might as well make the most of it. It was only three months till the end of the semester and then graduation.

“A month,” he said. Arthur looked at him confused.

“What?” he asked.

“A thousand dollars a month,” said Merlin. “That’s my deal.”

“A thousand dollars is more than sufficient. Why do you need more?”

“That’s my business. You asked me to tutor you and I will, under my terms. So do we have a deal or not?”

“Very well, a thousand dollars a month, paid after graduation.”

Merlin smirked.

“Nice try, Pendragon, but no sell. I get paid and whether you graduate or not is up to you. That is my deal, take it or leave it.”

Arthur smirked in amusement.

“Good. Deal. First session will be Monday. One o’clock at the library.” He took out his wallet, pulled out a card and handed it to Merlin. “This is my number. You’ll text me your address and I’ll have a cab be sent to your house. I know you don’t have a car. As for your band, be here at seven or don’t come at all.”

Next Arthur pulled out a check book and started writing on a check. Merlin watched in confusion.

“What are you doing now?” he asked.

“Writing you your down payment,” said Arthur. He carefully ripped the check from the book and held it out to Merlin. Merlin read the amount and gaped.

“Five hundred dollars?!”

“That’s only half of what I’m paying you,” said Arthur putting the check back in his inside jacket pocket. “Try to not spend it in one place.”

Merlin glared at Arthur as the blonde walked to the door and opened it. Before he left he turned back to Merlin with a smirk.

“See you tomorrw,” he said and left.

Merlin continued to glare at the door until he looked back at the check in his hand. Five hundred dollars. That was more than he made in his two week paycheck. It wasn’t much but it was a start. Grinning he pulled out his phone and dialed.

“Hello?”

“Gwen, you’ll never guess what just happened!” he said. “We got a gig!”

“What? When? How?”

“Uther had a last minute cancelation on a band and Arthur wanted to hire us.”

“And you took the job without consulting the other two members of the band?”

Merlin immediately felt guilty. He did jump the gun but he was so excited to finally get a good gig that he didn’t think that Gwen and Will would be busy tomorrow.

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll understand if you have to turn in down…”

“Are you shitting me? These are the Pendragons! I’m milking them for all their worth! What time?”

Merlin smiled at his friend in appreciation.

“Seven at the Camelot. Best to come a little bit early. Have Will pull up at the employee entrance.”

“Okay, will do!”

“And…” Merlin bit his bottom lip nervously. “I need you to do me a huge favor.”

“And what’s that?” asked Gwen curiously.

“I need you to pick up a blue rose comber bun.”

Gwen paused on her end.

“Why?”

“Because...” He started aloud but finished softly. “I’m meeting Excalibur tomorrow at the benefit.”

Gwen paused again, this time in shock.

“I’m sorry, but that sounded like you’re going to meet Excalibur tomorrow at the benefit,” she said.

“I am.”

The next thing he knew Merlin was holding the phone at arm’s length to keep his hearing away from Gwen’s enthusiastic screams.

“This is great, Merlin!” she said. “An even better reason to get the job! I have a lot to do before seven. I’ll call Will. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of everything.”

She hung up. Merlin groaned. The words were meant to reassure merlin but somehow they always made him worry. Probably because Gwen always did something that was a little over the top. He just hoped she’d tone it down tomorrow. The last thing he wanted was to scare Excalibur off.

Pocketing his phone he went back to the kitchen to return to work.

XXXXXX

Returning to the restaurant Arthur was more than happy to see that Sophia and her cronies had truly left. Elyan, Gwaine and Percival had left also. Elyan had work and the couple wanted to have a date day, whatever that was, and left to an amusement park or wherever Gwaine dragged Percival. He was an overgrown kid sometimes and Arthur didn’t know how Percival put up with him. The only person left at the table was Lancelot. Lancelot looked up as Arthur walked up.

“What did daddy-dearest want?” he asked as he sipped his water.

“To bitch, what else?” said Arthur sitting down. “He somehow got a hold of my grades. Furious that I’m failing my business courses.”

Lancelot gave him a sympathetic groan. He was an orphan rich kid with a substantial trust fund. He didn’t have any relatives to fight over the family fortune with so the state held his assets and gave him “allowances” once a week while he stayed in foster care. He jumped from foster home to foster home, never staying long for different reasons. A couple times it was because the families were trying to swindle themselves into his fortune. On his eighteenth birthday he was allowed access to his trust fund and came to Avalon for college. Uther didn’t even want Arthur to be friends with Lancelot until he heard that Lancelot was heir to du Loche Industries. Now Uther tolerated Arthur’s best friend’s presence.

“What did he say?” asked Lancelot.

“He said that I’d either get a tutor or quit my ‘extracurricular activities’.”

“Dude!” said Lancelot in shock. “Can he do that? You’ve paid for those classes with your own money.”

“Which is connected to his many, many bank accounts, never mind it was my mother’s trust fund to me. I can’t believe he would do this to me.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I agreed of course.”

Lancelot stared at his friend in surprise.

“What?!”

“I agreed, if I pick the tutor and he allows a band I know play for the benefit tomorrow.”

“Why did you want to pick the band?” asked Lancelot.

“Because the band my father had scheduled canceled and if he didn’t find a band soon he was going to have to cancel the benefit.”

“And what would be so bad about that?” asked Lancelot. “You hate those stuffy ‘peacock parties’.” Lancelot used Arthur’s term for the formal parties his father hosts. “Why would you want to keep this one going?”

Arthur was silent for a full minute before answering.

“I’m meeting Wizard tomorrow at the benefit,” he said.

Lancelot gaped at him, more surprised than when Arthur said Uther was threatening Arthur’s classes. A few days ago he was adamant on not meeting with the guy and now he was all for it.

“I thought you didn’t want to meet him,” he said.

“I didn’t, at the time, but I was sitting here with Sophia clinging to my arm and chattering away about fashion, the dos and don’ts and making fun of Gwen and Merlin and I realized that I didn’t want to spent the rest of my life doing what everyone else wanted. I wanted to be with people who liked me for who I am…”

“Hey!”

“Extended company excluded, but the point is I had the sudden urge to meet him. I wanted…needed to meet him.”

“That wouldn’t have anything to do with your sudden breakup with Sophia?”

Arthur laughed in relief.

“I’ve wanted to do that for six months,” he said.

“Then why haven’t you?” asked Lancelot and Arthur gave him a look of disbelief.

“Have you met Sophia?”

“Good point.”

Arthur laughed again, this time in humor of Lancelot’s forgetfulness.

“So what about the tutoring?” asked Lancelot.

“I’ve got Merlin to tutor for me,” said Arthur.

Lancelot frowned at him.

“But the guy doesn’t know anything about Hotel Management.” 

“But he does know the ins and outs of a hotel. I can use that for my class.”

“He won’t agree,” said Lancelot sipping his drink.

“He already did. I’m paying him a thousand a month.”

The water lodged in Lancelot’s throat and he sputtered the rest up. He grabbed his napkin and coughed hard in it. Everyone turned to look at him in shock. Arthur reached and hit Lancelot hard in the middle of his friend’s back. Lancelot coughed once and took a deep breath.

“You what?” he said when he could breathe again. “And he took it?”

“Everyone can be bought,” said Arthur with a shrug. “He’s probably already thinking about the video games and the books he’ll buy.”

“Not Merlin. If he took the money than he had a very good reason to do it. Merlin’s not a material person. There has to be a reason why he took the money.”

“Yeah, because it’s money.”

Lancelot shook his head. Arthur didn’t know Merlin the way Lancelot did. Lancelot owed Merlin a lot and he didn’t like anyone putting the man down, not even his best friend.

“How do you know, Merlin,” asked Arthur after a minute. Lancelot sighed.

“The year Gwaine joined the team, he was dating Merlin,” said Lancelot.

“Merlin’s gay?” asked Arthur in shock. Lancelot nodded.

“Yep. Out and proud. And you know how open Gwaine is with his sexuality.”

Arthur nodded. From day one Gwaine was out with his sexuality, making him a target to the more bigoted team members until he befriended Arthur and Lancelot. The group of friends took Gwaine in and protected him from the bashing. Arthur knew Gwaine was a party-goer and thought the man had multiple sex partners. He didn’t thing he had a monogamous relationship, and certainly not with Merlin.

“They were dating?” said Arthur in shock. “Why didn’t he tell us?”

“To protect Merlin. Merlin might be out too, but they still protect their own. If any homophobe idiots found out that there were two gay men on campus, and that they were dating, then there would have been a late night bashing with one or both of them dead. They kept their relationship secret to protect each other.”

“But Gwaine and Percival are open to their relationship.”

Lancelot gave him a look.

“Do you really think someone would fuck with Percy?” he asked.

Arthur saw the point. As calm as Percival may be in the presence of his friends, once a person he cares about his threatened he’s like a bull. He would fight until physically and mentally exhausted to protect those he cares about.

Merlin, on the other hand, was a twig. Anyone could easily snap him in two.

“I can see your point,” said Arthur.

Lancelot nodded.

“Anyway, the year they were dating, I was a party and I almost hit on Valiant’s newest main squeeze.”

Arthur nodded. Valiant was a student an Avalon and was on the soccer team until he got kicked out for fighting on campus. Everyone knew to not mess with anything that belong to him, especially his girlfriends. The last person that slept with one of Valiant’s girls wound up in intensive care.

“Well, there I was hitting on who was possibly the hottest girl at the party when Merlin just grabs me and says, ‘There you are, babe. I’ve been looking everywhere for you!’”

Arthur laughed. He could just imagine Lancelot’s face. It wasn’t the first time he got hit on by a man, Gwaine does it at least twenty times a day, and he took it all in stride, but to be hit on by your friend’s boyfriend was something completely different.

“Then he thanked the girl for finding me and led me off. I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing, that I had the girl in the bag, and he said my balls would have been handed to me in a bag if I kept hitting on Valiant’s girl. He nodded toward where the keg was and sure enough there was Valiant glaring daggers at me. The guy literally saved my bacon.”

Arthur nodded. Seems Merlin’s not entirely the bookworm geek Arthur made him out to be. If he had the guts to save a near stranger than he must be an okay guy.

“Geez, Arthur!” said Lancelot after a minute. “Your dad, Merlin, Wizard, Sophia; I hope you know what the hell you’re doing.”

Funnily enough, so did Arthur.

TBC

Chapter Text

Will and Gwen were excited about the upcoming gig that night and were quickly picking out songs to play while Merlin was nothing short of nervous. He didn’t know what he was going to do once he met Excalibur. They only ever talked digitally. He didn’t know what he’d do when they met face to face.

“…and then we can use this one. What do you think, Merlin?” asked Gwen turning to her friend. Merlin looked at her in shocked confusion.

“What?” he said.

“Were you listening?” asked Will.

“Sorry, guys,” said Merlin with a nervous laugh. “I guess I zoned out.”

“You’re the one who got us the gig,” said Will. “I would think you’d want a hand preparing for it.”

“I know, I’m sorry, I’m just nervous.”

“It’s understandable,” said Gwen glaring at Will as she wrapped an arm around her best friend. “Meeting someone new is nerve wrecking, especially if you like the guy.”

“What if he doesn’t like me?” asked Merlin full of dread. The last few times he had tried to form a relationship had ended badly for him. The longest he’s had yet was with Gwaine and that lasted six months.

“Aw, Merlin, he’s going to love you,” said Gwen.

“Yeah,” said Will encouragingly. “You’re a great guy, Merlin. Any guy would be lucky to have you.”

Merlin shook his head.

“Forget it. I’m not going.”

“What?!” said both of his friends.

“I’m a bellhop and a waiter,” said Merlin. “I’m the pity student at one of the most prestigious colleges in the world. Gwen, your parents saved since you and Elyan were born and, Will, your dad’s head of the Computer Department. I saved up since I was twelve and got in on scholarship and student loans that I’ll be paying off when I’m eighty. Why would someone want to meet someone like me?”

“Merlin, you’re an amazing guy,” said Gwen. “You’re fun and funny and loyal and you love pie but hate fruit salad…”

“Choice,” said Merlin.

“You love donuts but hate cake,” said Will.

“Choice.”

“Hate fish but loves fish sticks,” said Gwen.

“Choice. And what does that have to do with how amazing of a guy I am?” he asked.

“Only someone like you would hate one thing but like something else that’s basically the same thing,” said Will. “It’s contradictory.”

“It’s me.”

“Exactly,” said Gwen. “And you are the person he wants to meet. Why give up on a good thing? He might be the one.”

“He might not be gay,” said Merlin pointing out a crucial.

“He might be bi.”

Merlin crossed his arms.

“Small miracle.”

“I’d take it any day.” Gwen grabbed Merlin’s arm. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” asked Merlin.

“To give you your fantasy. Come on, Will.”

Will shrugged and followed after them. “But what about the set?” asked Merlin.

“Will and I have those covered. Right now, you did to get ready for your big night.”

Gwen dragged Merlin to Will’s car and they drove to Gwen’s house. It was a white house in a cul-de-sac with neatly cut hedges. The garage door was closed which meant no one was home. Will parked next to the curb by the drive and they all filed out.

“Why are we here,” asked Merlin.

“To get you ready for your happily ever after,” said Gwen.

Merlin shook his head. Sometimes Gwen’s head was still up in the clouds, believing in true love and knights in shining armor. As much as Gwen believed in fairies tales, she was still very much of a realist and knew that there were evil knights in the world, but she hoped to one day meet hers and help her friends meet their knights or fair maidens.

Gwen took out her house key and unlocked the door. It wasn’t the first time Merlin had been in Gwen’s house and was used to the very middle class décor of the home. They followed Gwen to the basement where it was set up as a fashion studio. Yards of fabric of several colors hung on racks on the wall, a mannequin in a corner, a sewing machine and a cabinet with spools of thread and files of designs. It was to the cabinet that Gwen went to and grabbed a tuxedo design. Merlin and Will watched as she selected thread and fabric.

“Okay, Merlin, stand still,” she said with a measuring tape. “Arms spread.”

Merlin immediately obeyed. It wasn’t the first time Gwen used him as a living model. She made several clothes for him and his mother so he wouldn’t have to spend money on new clothes. She quickly measured his arms legs and torso.

“Did you lose weight?” asked Gwen when she measured his stomach. “You’ve shrunk five inches.”

“Have I?” asked Merlin. “Wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

“Not for someone already as skinny as you are. Have you been eating?”

“I hardly have time to,” said Merlin. “Between work, school and Mum, I eat when I can.”

“Merlin!” Gwen put her hands on her hips and Merlin thought she looked like a scolding mother. “You have to eat.”

“I do!”

“Now.” Gwen pointed up the stairs toward the kitchen. Merlin laughed as he walked up with Will to get something to eat while Gwen worked.

Will and Merlin ate and went over the sets in the two hours that it took Gwen to finish cutting and sewing Merlin’s outfit. She called Merlin down a couple of times for a fitting and soon she had a nice tuxedo done, midnight blue to go with Merlin’s eyes. A quick trip to the neighborhood garden, who grew championship roses for the neighborhood competition, gave Merlin the blue rose he needed.

“What do you think?” asked Merlin turning in a circle to show his friends.

“Amazing,” said Gwen with excitement.

Merlin laughed and swept a hand through his head, but stopped.

“Oh, but what about a mask?” he asked touching his face.

“I got something,” said Will. “I’ll bring it over at the gig.”

“Thanks, Will,” said Merlin. “I’ll change and we’ll get ready.”

Merlin took the outfit off and Gwen packed it in a travel bag. They packed their instruments onto the back of Will’s truck, strapping the drum set down so it won’t get damaged, and headed toward Camelot Hotel.

XXXXXX

Arthur went through his wardrobe for what seemed like the fiftieth time. He was having trouble on deciding on what to wear. He wanted to look nice for when he met Wizard. He never had this problem with Sophia. She would pick out what outfits she wanted him to wear and with his previous dates. He’d just put on a tight shirt and a tight pair of pants and he’d be set. ¶It wasn’t Arthur’s first time meeting with a man. In the past he would discreetly go to gay clubs and hook up with a guy for the night. Arthur knew he was gay ever since he was fifteen when he kissed the captain of the football team in the locker room. Of course the boy immediately told Arthur not to tell anyone and didn’t associate with Arthur again. Arthur was hurt at the time but realized that the boy was afraid of his sexual preference. While Arthur made peace with who he was, he knew he couldn’t tell his father with as big of pride that he has, so Arthur had to keep his preferences under wraps until he could cut ties with his father.

“The black Armani with the red tie.”

Arthur turned to see his older half-sister standing at his door. Morgana was the product of one of Uther’s many affairs. As much as Uther loved Arthur’s mother, he wasn’t exactly a faithful man. Morgana came to live with them when Arthur was still a boy after both her parents died and it was discovered Uther was her father. She was one of the few people he could be himself around.

“Thanks,” said Arthur taking out the mentioned outfit. “I was frazzled.”

Morgana walked over to his bureau and started looking through is various tie clips and cuff links.

“Going to meet him tonight,” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Arthur picking out black leather Italian shoes. “I want to look good.”

“How will you know it’s him?” she asked picking out matching sapphire cufflinks and tie clip.

“Blue rose comber bun,” said Arthur. Morgana gave him a look. “I know, cliché.”

“Sometimes, cliché is what’s best,” said Morgana. She handed him the cuff links and the tie clip. “I hope he’s everything you’re looking for.”

“Me too,” said Arthur. “Who are you going with? Leon?”

“Of course,” said Morgana.

Morgana watched as Arthur dressed for the benefit. When Morgana first moved in with the Pendragons and found out Uther was her real father, she hated Arthur for being the only one Uther gave all his attention to. She thought Arthur was spoiled and ungrateful but over time she learned the truth. Uther pushed Arthur harder than he did his staff. Every time Arthur failed at something, Uther would give Arthur a five hour lecture on the priorities of being a Pendragon. Since Morgana wasn’t a legitimate member she was spared from the proprieties of being a Pendragon.

Morgana was also the first to discover Arthur’s secret and kept it from Uther. She let Arthur discover himself on his own but when he did and needed someone to talk to, she was the one that listened. When he was dating Sophia she was the one who kept his head on whenever his “girlfriend” became too demanding. She kept telling him to break it off with her before it got too serious and she was glad he took her advice, even if it was a few months too late.

The room was suddenly pierced by her phone ringing. Morgana fished it out of her pocket and answered it.

“Hello? ... Oh, hi, Gwen. … No, I was just helping my idiot brother get ready for the benefit. … Really? No, it’s fine. I’ll be happy to help. Where do you want to meet? … Okay. I can do that. Twenty minutes? … Okay, see you there.”

“What did Gwen want?” asked Arthur. Morgana and Gwen had been friends since childhood. They had a falling out a couple years ago but where slowly getting over it.

“She and her friends have a gig tonight and they want to look like they belong,” said Morgana. “Funnily enough, it’s at Uther’s benefit.”

“Of course it is, I hired them,” said Arthur doing his tie. “So you’re going to do their hair and make-up?”

“Yes,” said Morgana standing up. “Not that you need it. You’ll be okay on your own?”

“Yep,” he said picking up his jacket.

Morgana nodded and stood. She walked to the door and turned the handle, but before she walked out she turned back to Arthur.

“Good luck,” she said. He turned to her with sincere gratitude.

“Thanks,” he said.

Nodding she walked out the door. Twenty minutes later she was walking inside Gwen’s house. She found Gwen stitching the final touches on a tuxedo, Will typing on his laptop with headphones on and Merlin scribbling on a piece of paper. Every few seconds he was flipping the pencil around to erase something and write something else.

“Inspired?” asked Morgana. They all looked up at her in surprise. “Hello, all. Now please tell me why you require my particular expertise?”

“Merlin’s got a date,” said Gwen excited.

“Really?” said Morgana looking at Merlin. “With who?”

“I…don’t know,” said Merlin.

Morgana looked at him in surprise.

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” she asked.

“I’ve never actually met him,” said Merlin. “I’ve talked to him, online.”

“Are you crazy? He might be an axe murderer or something.”

“He doesn’t sound like an axe murderer,” said Merlin. “He sounds like a great guy. We like a lot of the same things and he’s funny, and he goes to the same college as us. He wants to be a literature major but his father’s forcing him to do business.”

“R-Really?” said Morgana surprised. “Where are you meeting him?”

“At the Pendragon’s benefit,” said Merlin. All Morgana’s friends know that even though Morgana accepted Arthur as her brother, she never accepted Uther as her father. Morgana paused. Arthur was going to meet his mysterious admirer at the benefit tonight and Merlin was going to do the same thing, but they both couldn’t be meeting each other. That just couldn’t be possible.

Could it?

“Morgana, are you okay?” asked Gwen worriedly. Her voice snapped Morgana out of her thoughts.

“What? Yes, I’m sorry. I just got distracted. Well, let’s get you ready for your date.”

“Do you think it’s salvageable?” asked Merlin running a hand through his jet black hair. Morgana assessed Merlin’s hair.

“I think I can come up with something,” she said.

For the next hour she styled not only Merlin’s, but also Gwen’s and Will’s. She also did their make-up. She applied foundation and cover-up on Merlin and Gwen and went the whole nine yards on Gwen. As Morgana worked on Gwen, Merlin called his house to check up on his mother.

“Hello, Emrys residence.”

Merlin smiled at Freya’s cheerful greeting. Freya was a nursing student and friend to Merlin who agreed to watch over Hunith while Merlin was out whenever she could. For a while she did have a crush on Merlin until he told her as politely as he could that he wasn’t interested in women in that way. She had been hurt but completely understood.

“Hey, Freya, it’s Merlin,” he said. “How’s Mum?”

“Oh, we’re about to have dinner actually. You want to talk to her?”

“Sure. Put her on.”

“Okey-dokey. Hunith, Merlin’s on the phone.”

There was a pause as the phone was passed over.

“Honey? How are you doing?”

“Good, Mum. We’ve actually got a last minute gig tonight at the Pendragon’s benefit. It seems that the band Uther scheduled canceled and they needed a last minute replacement and it was us! Isn’t that great?”

“Oh, sweetheart, that’s wonderful! It’s the break you’ve always wanted. A lot of prominent people will be there. There might be someone there that’s from a music producer or something.”

“Mum, stop,” said Merlin. He couldn’t believe the faith his mother had in him and his music. “I know you think I’m the next Willie Nelson or something, but there’s a very real chance there might not be a big time music producer there. At the most I’ll just make a lot of money.”

Hunith scoffed.

“Don’t see yourself short, Merlin. You’re an amazing writer. Everybody loves your songs, and if they don’t then forget them. You’re an Emrys. We might not live in a castle or be insanely rich, but we achieve anything we set our minds to.”

Merlin smiled even through his mother couldn’t see it.

“Right, Mum,” he said. “I’ll do that. I love you.”

“I love you too, baby. Knock'em dead.”

“I will,” he said and hung up.

“Merlin, time to suit up,” said Gwen.

“Okay,” said Merlin taking the tuxedo from Gwen. He went to the bathroom to put it on and put his phone, wallet and the lyrics he had been struggling over into the pockets. He walked out to face the scrutiny of his friends. “Well?”

Everyone looked at him with wide eyes.

“What?” he said.

“Damn, Merlin,” said Morgana. “I do good work. If you weren’t gay, I’d snatch you up in a heartbeat.”

“But what about a mask?” asked Gwen.

“Here.” Will reached into his computer bag and pulled out a strip of black cloth. “Use this.”

Merlin took the cloth and saw that it had two holes in it where the eyes were supposed to be.

“Oh, that’s right,” he said. “You were Zorro for Halloween two years ago.”

“Yep, still have the costume too,” said Will.

“Remind me to never make fun of your hoarding addiction ever again,” said Merlin as put it on. He turned to his friend. “Well?”

“Holy hell,” said Gwen. “If he doesn’t snatch you up, I will.”

“I agree,” said Morgana. “Well, let’s get Cinderellaman to his ball so he can meet his Prince Charming.”

The three friends laughed as they walked out of the door.

TBC

Chapter Text

Making my way downtown/Walking fast/Faces pass/And I'm home bound

*Staring blankly ahead/Just making my way/Making a way/Through the crowd

And I need you/And I miss you/And now I wonder....

Arthur had never been such a nervous wreck. The only thing keeping him grounded was Morgana’s nail digging vice grip on his arm. The blue rose pinned to his lapel was the only comfort he had. In his nervousness, he fiddled with his cufflinks and Morgana slapped his hand away.

“Stop it,” she scolded. “Act your age.”

“I can’t help it. I’m a nervous wreck. I’m sweating in this suit.”

“You better not be! That’s Gucci. And quit fidgeting.”

Arthur turned a soft glare at her. She looked stunning in her sapphire blue dress with matching sapphire necklace and earrings. Her black hair was piled on her head with invisible pins keeping it up. Morgana was the kind of person to make a t-shirt and jeans look stylish.

“I can’t help it.” Arthur worried his lower lip but stop at Morgana’s scolding look. “I’m sorry. What if he doesn’t like me? What if he thinks I’m a douche like everyone else? What if…”

“What if the sky turns to fire and your nose falls off,” said Morgana with a slight giggle.

“Disney, nice. Are you done?”

“No. Honestly, Arthur, you’ll be fine. From what you’ve told me, he obviously likes you so don’t worry. Listen to that band! You’ve done a good job. The orchestra Dad booked would have put everyone to sleep. Trust me. I had to fucking audition them.”

He laughed at his sister’s word usage. His sister can act elegant in the high society that was their life but in the privacy of their rooms she was as uncouth as a west side boy. Arthur was grateful for his sister trying to get his mind off of meeting Wizard but in the back of his mind he was still a nervous wreck.

She was right through. The band was great. They downplayed the stuff they used in the Albion Bar and even played some classics. All of them were dressed in tuxedoes; Gwen’s a little more feminine than the others, complete with black fedora’s and black masks.

“Arthur.” Arthur turned to see his father leering down at him. “When you said you had a band for tonight I didn’t think…”

“Aren’t they amazing, Father,” said Morgana respectfully but also forcefully. “Everyone’s been saying how great they are.”

Uther gave her a bewildered look. People were talking about how good the band was despite their nonexistence name. It was strange for Uther to not know what was happening at his own party.

“They are?” he said condescending but also curious.

“Yes, haven’t you heard? The guests love them.”

Uther looked around to hear the compliments of the guests. Even with all the praise, Uther still had an offending look to him.

“Well, then, Arthur, I see you’re not completely incompetent,” he said. “Where did you find them?”

“They’re students from school,” said Arthur. “I’ve heard them play and thought of them when you said you lost your band. They were more than happy to fill in.”

“Good, but next time, find a band that’s not so amateurish. It would prefer acoustic music to this racket.” ¶He left, leaving his son ashamed and his daughter furious.

“That bastard!” said Morgana slamming her glass on the tray of a passing waiter, almost toppling it off. “Where does he get off…?”

“No, he’s right,” said Arthur. “I should have gotten an orchestra.”

“No, Arthur. Everyone loves the band. Don’t let him make you doubt yourself. You’re a smart man, Arthur. You know what people want before they do. You’ll make an amazing hotel owner.”

Arthur could only nod even though she knew he didn’t want to be a hotel owner. That was her ambition, one he would happily give her given half the chance. She was better suited to running a business than him. She was ruthless against the competition and kind to the hotel staff. She would be a much better president of Camelot Hotel and Restaurant than Arthur. He cares about the staff but he doesn’t want to be who his father wants him to be.

The band paused in playing and Gwen spoke into the mic.

“All right everyone, we’re going to play you a golden oldie all of you heard at least once,” she said and Will struck up on the piano as Merlin played a harmonica. When the singing started, it surprised Arthur to hear Merlin sing.

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday/ The regular crowd shuffles in/ There's an old man sitting next to me/ Making love to his tonic and gin

He says, "Son can you play me a memory/ I'm not really sure how it goes/ But it's sad and it's sweet/ And I knew it complete/ When I wore a younger man's clothes"

Sing us a song you're the piano man/ Sing us a song tonight/ Well we're all in the mood for a melody/ And you've got us feeling alright

“He’s good,” said Morgana. “Why isn’t he the lead singer?”

“Stage fright, I guess,” said Arthur.

Morgana took her phone from her purse to check the time.

“Nearly eleven,” she said. “Think he’ll show?”

“I hope he does,” said Arthur.

Morgana gave her a questioning look.

“He doesn’t know that you’re…”

“No.”

Morgana’s mouth gaped open.

“Wow.”

“I like him, Morgana. I don’t want him to hate me.”

Morgana rubbing his arm comfortingly.

“He won’t hate you, Artie,” she said and earned a glare for the nickname. “You’ll see. He’s going to love you.”

Arthur just nodded. Right now, he was just hoping Wizard would like him.

XXXXXX

The band called a brief intermission and left the stage. They were really taking a break to get Merlin ready to meet Excalibur. The outfit Merlin would be wearing was ready in the backroom. They made their good-byes to the guests and ushered Merlin to the backroom.

“Oh God, I’m so nervous,” said Merlin as he pulled off his jacket. “What if he doesn’t like me? What if…”

“You’ll hyperventilate thinking like that,” said Gwen pulling his suit out of hit’s protective sleeve. “Here, put it on.”

“Will you both be okay without me?” he asked taking the suit.

“Yes, we’ve got you recorded on the keyboard,” said Will. “Everything is taken care of.”

“So stop worrying,” said Gwen. Merlin exhaled heavily to relieve the tension.

“I know. I’m just really, really nervous.”

“He’ll love you,” said Gwen. “Now get changed and not put mine and Morgana’s hard work to waste.”

She and Will walked out to allow Merlin to dress privately. While he appreciated the gesture, he was a nervous wreck. He wanted to meet Excalibur, and at the same time run to the opposite side of the planet.

But he knew that he had to go through with it. Merlin wasn’t a coward and he wasn’t known for backing down on a challenge. His whole life was a challenge. The only son of a single mother, he had to live off leftovers from the diner his mother worked at part time while taking classes for veterinary assistant. His clothes mostly came from second hand stores or yard sales. The television they had was so outdate there were spots of snow on the screen and his blankets were a patchwork of the clothes he outgrew. Merlin could never hate his mother for the simple life he lived. She made do with what they had and they survived and he got into one of the most prestigious colleges in the world. In fact, he couldn’t love her more.

Changing into Gwen’s suit, he took off his fedora and smoothed out his hat-hair. Picking up the case that held the blue rose he picked it up and took a moment to take in its sweet scent before putting it on his lapel. Opening the door he stepped out for his friends’ inspection.

“You look so handsome,” said Gwen in awe. “Just one thing.”

She reached up and ruffled the hair Morgana spent an hour styling.

“Hey,” said Merlin ducking away. “What did you do that for?”

“Now you look gorgeous,” she said. “Now go and meet your man.”

She pushed him toward the exit. He hurried out and went around to the front. He hoped Excalibur left his name on the guest list. If not then all of this was for nothing.

He walked up the steps and came to the valet at the entrance. He stopped at the man’s stoic stare.

“Name?” he asked.

“Uh, Wizard,” he said.

The valet gave him a questioning look before looking at the list. He frowns in surprise.

“You may go,” he said.

Merlin sighed in relief as he walked in. Whoever Excalibur was had connections. Walking into the hotel he went straight to the ballroom. He quickly checked his watch. He was only a couple minutes early.

He looked around nervously. People all around were talking, laughing and dancing. He was walked to the dance floor and looked around for anyone with a matching blue rose. Gwen and Will walked back up on stage and Gwen took the mic.

“Hello, everyone,” she said politely. “I’m sorry to say that our guitarist had to leave early on personal business but not to worry. Will and I will continue to entertain you all with our wonderful tunes.”

Will pressed a few buttons and music came out.

I used to think maybe you love me/Now baby I'm sure and I just can't wait/Till the day when you knock on my door/Now every time I go for the mailbox /Gotta hold myself down cause I just can't wait/Till you write me you’re comin' around!

I'm walkin' on sunshine whoa! /I’m walking on sunshine whoa!/I’m walking on sunshine whoa!/And don't it feel good? Hey!/Oh right now!/And don't it feel good?

Merlin glared over at Gwen, who grinned and winked at him. He sighed. They must have picked the song while he was preoccupied musing over on “what ifs” with Excalibur. He supposed it was supposed to make him feel better and it did. The song was one of his mother’s favorites. She sung it to Merlin when he had trouble going to sleep.

“Well, well, fancy meeting you here.” Merlin turned and was shocked to see Mordred standing behind him without his mask. He wore the uniform of a waiter and had a tray under his arm. Merlin was even more relieved to see no blue rose on him.

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Merlin turning away.

“I know that’s you, Merlin,” said Mordred walking around to face Merlin. “And I don’t know how you got in here. I find it interesting on how you got in as a guest.”

“What do you want?” asked Merlin.

“I don’t know yet,” said Mordred with a smug grin. “We’ll see.”

He sauntered off, disappearing in the crowd. Merlin watched him walk off wondering what game he was playing at. It was obvious to everyone Merlin wanted nothing to do with him, and yet Mordred still persisted on pursuing Merlin. Merlin had a feeling something back was going to come out of it.

“Wizard?”

Merlin turned again, and found himself face to face with Arthur Pendragon. He looked gorgeous in his black suit with the red tie and blue tie pin. A white mask covered his face but there was no hiding that golden blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. And pinned to his lapel was a vibrant blue rose.

“Arthur Pendragon,” he said in shock.

Arthur looked at him in shock.

“You know me,” he said.

“Of course,” said Merlin. “Everyone knows you. Don’t you know who I am?”

“Of course I do. You’re the guy I’ve been waiting to meet. You’re Wizard.” Arthur sighed as if to release tension and looked at Merlin hopefully. “What’s your name?”

“I’m sorry. This was a mistake.” He turned to leave but felt a hand grab his hand.

“Wait! Please, I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you,” said Arthur almost desperately. Merlin looked at him in confusion. Couldn’t Arthur see it was Merlin? “Please, just let us talk like we used to. I really want to get to know you.”

Merlin paused as he saw the sincerity in Arthur’s eyes. Arthur really didn’t know that Wizard was Merlin.

“Okay, but I won’t tell you my name. You’ll have to earn that.”

From the look on Arthur’s face Merlin knew he didn’t like the idea.

“Okay,” he said. He looked around before turning back to Merlin. “Come with me.”

He grabbed Merlin’s hand and pulled him through the crowd.

“Where are we going?” asked Merlin surprised.

“Someplace we can talk in private,” said Arthur and led him out a pair of French glass doors into the garden.

XXXXXX

Sophia watched furiously as Arthur approached an unknown man and struck up a conversation. She wasn’t angry because Arthur was talking to the stranger. What made her furious was the complete look of adoration on Arthur’s face as he talked to the man. He had never looked at her that way. He had never talked to her like every word she said mattered.

For six months she clung to Arthur’s arm, adoring him and trying to get her to notice her, and it all went down in one night. She had to work on a plan to get back with Arthur and then into his empire. She wasn’t going down without a fight.

Sophia didn’t care if Arthur loved her or not. She only wanted his money. Her family may come off as prestigious but the truth was they were flat broke. Uther took over their company a year ago and now they were living off savings. They had to downsize everything from where they lived to their dress. Luckily she had Vivian to get her the latest fashion and jewelry but she still had to go to a suburban area and cook her own meals and clean her own clothes. She hated cooking and cleaning. They created maids for a reason.

As soon as she saw Arthur at the party, she hatched a plan to get him to go out with her and hopefully one day, marry her. The plan had been going smoothly until this a couple months ago. Arthur started acting distant and secretive. Sophia tried to figure out what it was but Arthur hide it well. She was about to use excessive force when Arthur broke things off with her.

She dressed up in a dress that she hoped would entice Arthur back to her; A black dress that clung to her hips and sloped down the back to reveal a fair amount of skin. She even wore a blue sapphire, Arthur’s favorite gem, but he didn’t even glance at her. It infuriated her that he would just ignore her and give all his attention to a total stranger.

She saw Arthur lead the mystery man out of the ball room and head toward the garden. She put her champagne flute on the tray of a passing waiter and wove around the guests to follow them. She almost reached the doors when Lancelot stepping in her way.

“Sophia, my, how beautiful you look,” he said in a fake complimentary tone.

“Move, Lake,” she ordered and attempted to move around him, but he moved with her.

“What’s with the hostility? I was just paying you a compliment.”

“I don’t need your compliments. Now move out of my way.”

“No,” said Lancelot defiantly. Sophia glared at him. Out of all of Arthur’s friends, she hated Lancelot the most. He held more sway over him than she ever did, and the peasant and those two men with their perverted lifestyle weren’t making her plan any easier.

“Lancelot, move or I’ll have security move you for me?” she said.

“On what grounds? Polite conversation? That’ll hold up well.” He leaned down to glare at her. “I know what you’re up to, Sophia, and I know what you’re planning, so I’m going to say this only once. Stay the hell away from Arthur. I will do anything to keep him happy, and I don’t care about who gets in my way.”

Sophia gave a start at the intense look in his eyes. He was serious. He really would harm her to keep Arthur happy. Eventually she got over her surprise and glared back. No one was going to stop her from getting her way.

“Just try and stop me,” she said and walked away.

TBC

Chapter Text

Arthur couldn’t believe his luck. He had Wizard in front of him. Talking to him. Granted, Wizard wanted to keep his name from Arthur and while Arthur was somewhat all right with it, he was dying to know Wizard’s name. There was something familiar about him, but Arthur couldn’t place where.

The night was actually nice as they walked through the garden. The air was warm with a slight chill, normal for spring weather, so they kept their jackets on. Arthur snuck glances to Wizard as they walked and had a feeling the other boy was doing the same. Music could be heard through the open windows and was a little sad that Merlin wasn’t playing anymore. The young man was an amazing guitarist and singer.

Merlin tried to not let Arthur’s gazes get on him. Only an idiot would not figure out the blonde was checking Merlin out and for some reason, Merlin was glad about that. Sure, Merlin was attracted to Arthur, what self-respecting gay man wouldn’t, or any straight woman for that matter, but Merlin always thought that Arthur was straight and so never pursued the blonde. Plus in school, Arthur acted like one of those rich spoiled brats Merlin had to cater to since he was eighteen but not Merlin is seeing another side of Arthur that was surprising. The man was actually considerate, taking Merlin to the garden after seeing how uncomfortable he was in the crowd.

Arthur looked over at Merlin again apprehensively.

“What’s your favorite meal?” he asked. Merlin laughed.

“What’s this? Twenty Questions?”

Arthur shrugged. “I just want to get to know you better.”

“Pizza,” said Merlin. “What’s yours?”

“Steak and mash potatoes with gravy. Favorite movie?”

“That changes time after time, but I happen to like Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves the best.”

Arthur gaped at him.

“Me too! My favorite TV series is Doctor Who.”

Merlin laughed.

“Who doesn’t love that show?!”

Both laughed in amazement on finding something in common. After a couple of minutes, Arthur cleared his throat.

“So, uh, what’s your major?” he asked. While they talked about almost everything, they kept their majors a secret so that they wouldn’t go crazy trying to find each other in classes.

“Music,” said Merlin. “I write music. I want to be a songwriter.”

Arthur smiled at him.

“Really? I would love to hear one of your songs,” he said.

Merlin’s ears pricked when one of his songs started playing and softly laughed.

“Yeah, one day, maybe you will,” he said. “So what about you? What’s your major?”

“My dad wants it to be Hotel Business, but I want it to be Literature.”

Merlin stared at him in surprise.

“Literature? Why that?”

“My mom. She was an avid reader and had one of the rooms converted into a library. It’s covered from wall to wall with books. I wanted to learn more about her so I started reading her books and I fell in love with them just as she had.” Arthur had a sad smile as he spoke of the mother he never met. “Now, I want to teach people to appreciate books as much as I have, and maybe write a few. I don’t plan on being a best seller. Just write a few ideas down, you know?”

“You want to express yourself through words. I can understand that. I try to do the same with my music. Write down my feelings and hope people will feel the same thing I did as they listen to them.”

Arthur looked at the other boy in wonder. Not even his friends understood his reasons in becoming a writer. Writing wasn’t just about the plots or the genre or the characters, it was about the expression in the words. Feeling whatever the writer was feeling at the time they were writing it. Feeling the same thing the characters were feeling as you read and connect with them through the words. Watching movies was fine entertainment but it didn’t connect a person to the characters like a book does.

But this boy in front of him understood. He understood everything Arthur felt and wanted the same, only in a different form.

“Yes, that’s right,” said Arthur.

“So, what’s your favorite book?” asked Merlin.

“Neill Gaiman’s Neverwhere.” Merlin gave him a surprised look and Arthur laughed. “Not classical, I know, but I like how it stays in London yet making it seem like you’re in another world entirely. The mini-series wasn’t bad but I prefer the book. What’s yours?"

Le Morte de Arthur,” said Merlin. “I’m more into the classics.”

“That’s a good one,” said Arthur. He cleared his throat and spoke again. “S-so, do you have a girlfriend?”

Merlin laughed.

“No,” said Merlin. “I, uh, I’m not interested in girl like that.”

He looked at Arthur warily. Arthur looked at him in shock.

“You…You’re…”

“Gay?” finished Merlin with a nervous smile. “Yeah, I am. Is that a problem?”

“No!” said Arthur. “If I was, it would be hypocritical.”

This time, Merlin was in shock.

“You’re…”

“Gay, too? Yes, I am.”

Merlin had to force himself to breath. The Adonis every straight woman, and some gay men, were pining their hearts for someone who was gay.

“But what about Sophia?” he asked.

“Latched onto me as soon as she saw me. I dumped her this morning.”

“Why?”

Arthur gave him a nervous look and scratched his head.

“So I could meet you,” he said. “And I was tired of pretending to be something I’m not. Only my friends know that I’m gay, not even my dad is yet, and while I’m not ready to announce it to the world, I do want to be what I am, and I was hoping with you.”

Merlin laughed.

“And what if I wasn’t gay?” he asked.

“Then I’d say I had gained a friend,” said Arthur with a shrug.

“And if I wasn’t interested in dating you?”

“I’d ask to just stay friends.”

Merlin laughed again.

“You’re something else, Arthur Pendragon,” he said. Arthur gave him a confused look.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

Merlin stopped walking and turned to him.

“I mean, I had you pegged for a guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer. That you’d force me to say yes just so you could screw with me. I’ve had more than enough people do that to me already.”

“Who’s screwed you over?’ asked Arthur with a mix of concern and rage. This mysterious man had obviously been hurt and Arthur wanted to hurt them in return.

“I think the more accurate question would be, who hasn’t screwed me over,” said Merlin. “I didn’t come from a life of riches like you had. Everything I have in this life, I earned through hard work. I’m not a prince or a knight or some other cliché thing like that. I’m a pauper. I’m one of the people that people like you make fun of.”

“No one deserves that,” said Arthur. “Especially not you.”

Merlin scoffed.

“Unfortunately, you can’t change society,” said Merlin.

“Maybe not, but I can change something.”

Merlin gave him a disbelieving look.

“Like what?”

A new song started up and the words floating outside. Arthur almost laughed at the irony of the lyrics. He held his hand out to Merlin.

“Dance with me,” he said. Merlin looked at him stupefied.

“What?”

“Dance with me. If you’re worried about someone looking, no one’s out here.”

“I’m not worried about people seeing me. I’m out and proud, but you aren’t. I’m worried about someone seeing you.”

Arthur took his hand and pulled him close against his chest. Merlin’s heart hammered in his chest and he gasped. Soccer had done Arthur’s body good. Arthur’s chest and abs were firm and well-toned. Merlin had to control himself to not get aroused by how close he was to his crush.

“If someone did, I’ll take care of it,” said Arthur. “Please, just one dance.”

The desperate look was what broke Merlin and he nodded.

“All right,” he said. Arthur smiled and led Merlin through the dance.

When the rain is blowing in your face,/ And the whole world is on your case,/ I could offer you a warm embrace/ To make you feel my love.

When the evening shadows and the stars appear,/ And there is no one there to dry your tears,/ I could hold you for a million years/ To make you feel my love.

Merlin allowed the song to sweep over him. He had to admit he felt comfortable dancing with Arthur, even if there was no one around.

Arthur sighed happily. Of everything he visualized doing with this man, dancing was at the top of his list. He never felt happier than he was right at this moment. He was with a man who understood him. One he could possibly love if he wasn’t already.

“Did you know that the first song a couple dances to is their song,” he said.

Merlin laughs.

“You believe that?” he asked.

“I do now.”

Merlin giggled, freaking giggled, and held Arthur close. They stayed like that for a couple more song until Merlin’s phone rang. He pulled away to answer it.

“I’m sorry,” he said looking at his simple flip phone and seeing Freya’s number flash on the screen. “I have to take this.”

“Of course,” said Arthur.

Merlin walked away a few feet to speak to Freya privately.

“Freya?” he said.

“Merlin? Your mum’s collapsed.”

“What?!” said Merlin, instantly panicking. “What happened?”

“She came down for a glass of water and she collapsed. I called an ambulance and they took her to the hospital.”

“Oh God,” said Merlin. “I’ll be there as quick as I can.”

“How? You don’t have a car.”

“I’ll find a way. Stay with her.”

“Of course I will.”

Merlin hung up and turned to Arthur apologetically.

“I’m sorry. I-I’ve got to go.”

He turned to leave but Arthur grabbed his arm.

“Wait, where are you going?” he asked.

“Reality,” said Merlin sadly. “I’m sorry, Arthur. I like you, I really do, but I don’t belong in your world and you don’t belong in mine.”

“But…”

“I’m sorry.”

Jerking out of Arthur’s grasp, Merlin ran inside. He took off the mask and rose, throwing both away as he ran through the crowd. Arthur ran after him but lost him, only finding the mask and the rose. Next to both was a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, he found lines of rhyming words, some scratched out and some circled. Folding the paper back up, he placed it in his pocket and picked up the mask and rose.

Merlin wove through the crowd, trying to get away from Arthur and calm himself before he starts a full scale panic attack. He still needed to solve the problem of a car. He couldn’t take Will’s. He and Gwen needed that for the equipment. He spotted Gwaine and Percival near the edge of the dance floor and grinned at his luck. Even if they came together, they still had their friends to bum rides from. He hurried to them.

“Gwaine, I need to borrow your Mercedes,” said Merlin.

“Merlin, what are you doing here?” asked Gwaine in surprise. “Shouldn’t you be up playing?”

“I got a call. It’s my mum. I need a ride.”

Gwaine opened his mouth in shock. He knew how much Merlin loved his mother and how sick Hunith had gotten four years ago when she became ill the first time. Merlin barely left her bedside and ended their relationship to care for her. Gwaine didn’t blame him, and actually felt relieved. As much as he cared for Merlin, he didn’t want to force Merlin to choose between him and Hunith.

“Of course, here.” He fished out his keys and handed them to Merlin. “I can ride with Percival. We came in separate cars.”

“Only because drama queen here takes so long getting ready,” said Percival and grunted when Gwaine elbowed his rib.

“Shut up. You love the way I look.”

“Thanks, Gwaine. Thanks, Percy,” said Merlin and kissed both men on the cheek before running out of the ball room.

“God, I hope she’s okay,” said Gwaine.

“With Merlin taking care of her, she’s going to be fine,” said Percival as Arthur ran up. “Arthur, where’s the fire?”

“Have you seen a man in a midnight blue suit, black hair and the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen?” asked Arthur. Gwaine and Percival looked at him in shock.

“Wow, Arthur, you’ve got it bad,” said Gwaine. “Is it that mystery guy? Did he pull a Cinderella on you?”

“This isn’t funny, Gwaine,” said Arthur glaring at him. “He got a call on his phone and took off.”

Gwaine and Percival looked at each other in shock.

“You don’t think…” said Gwaine.

“Freaking small world,” said Percival.

“What is it,” asked Arthur. “Do you know who he is?”

“Arthur,” said Gwaine urgently. “Let’s just say that wherever he is, he’s where he needs to be. He’s not the kind of guy to run out on an event unless it was serious.”

Arthur panted, partly from trying to catch up with the man who captured his attention and partly to keep from panicking.

“But I never got his name,” said Arthur sadly.

Gwaine put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and squeezed it comfortingly.

“Trust me when I say, Arthur, you’ll see him again,” he said.

A part of Arthur wanted to believe his friend, but there was also a part of him that had doubts.

XXXXXX

Mordred smirked as he watched Merlin run off, leaving Arthur behind. He didn’t get a lot out of the conversation because he had to stay far enough behind to not be seen, but he got enough to know that Arthur didn’t know who Merlin was.

Mordred had been pursuing Merlin since he saw the man. There was something about the man that was alluring but all he wanted was to sleep with Merlin. He didn’t want a relationship with him. Merlin evading him was annoying and irritated him to no end. When Mordred saw something he wanted, he took. He didn’t care who or what was in his way.

Walking back into the ballroom, he watched as Merlin left and Arthur continued to look for him. In the corner he noticed Sophia watching Arthur with a searing look and smirked when an idea came to him. He walked over to her.

“What do you want?” she asked when she spotted him.

“You want Arthur’s money, don’t you?” he asked. She stared at him in shock.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, trying to not stutter.

“Please,” he said sarcastically. “I work in a hotel. I know when a person in playing another. I could see through you like glass. Plus, when you’re trying to hide affairs, don’t have them in your boyfriend’s father’s hotel.”

Sophia glared at him enough to kill him, but he didn’t let it faze him.

“Let me hazard a guess and say that Arthur hasn’t slept with you once,” said Mordred crossing his arms.

“No. I try everything but he refuses to.” She leers at him. “I’m guessing you know why.”

“Let’s just say I have a plan that’ll get us both what we want,” he said.

“And what do you want,” she asked.

“That’s for me to know, and you to find out when your part’s done.”

“And what’s my part?”

“Tell me everything you know about Arthur Pendragon.”

TBC

Chapter Text

Merlin was sure he broke every speed limit in the book as he drove toward the hospital. In his head, his mind was playing through worst case scenarios. It went to his mother falling and breaking her neck to a small cut.

Unbidden, his mind it went back to Arthur. The hour he spent with Arthur had been the best in his life. He had felt more relaxed then than he did in a long time. In any other world, Merlin could see himself in a relationship with Arthur. They had similar tastes and he liked being around him, even for that short of time, but Merlin lived in the real world and knew that he and Arthur could never be together. Arthur was a rich trust-fund baby and Merlin was barely scrapping by. There was no way they could be together.

He saw the ambulance lights before he reached the hospital. He pulled up right in front of the entrance and ran inside. He found Freya waiting anxiously in the waiting room.

“Freya!” he called and she looked up in relief at the sight of him.

“Merlin, thank God!” she said getting up running toward him. “I didn’t know what else to do. She just collapsed so I called for an ambulance. They wouldn’t let me in with her since I’m not family, and won’t tell me anything for the same reason, but I told them you’d be coming soon…”

Merlin interrupted her because he could hardly make out what she was saying. “Freya, calm down, you’re rambling. Take a deep breath.”

Freya did and explained.

“Hunith was in her room napping and I was in the living room studying for my exam. I heard a crash in the kitchen and ran into find Hunith collapsed on the floor. I called for an ambulance and called you on the way to the hospital.”

Merlin sighed and nodded. He knew Freya did everything she could and didn’t blame her for anything. He was just worried about his mother. It had been four years since she got sick and they were still paying the medical bills for those. If she got sick again than there was no way they could pay for it, but Merlin refused to let his mother die. He would find a way to take care of her if it was the last thing he’d do.

“Hunith Emrys?”

Merlin turned to the doctor at the front of the waiting room door and walked up to him.

“I’m Merlin Emrys, her son,” he said. “Please, tell me what’s wrong with my mother.”

“My name is Doctor Harper,” said the doctor. “For now we’re sending some blood work to the lab to test. It says she had cancer four years ago.”

“Yes, but that’s gone. She’s in remission. What can you tell me is wrong with her?”

“She’s running a slight fever and her blood pressure is slightly elevated. There’s also slight bruising on her kidney and liver areas. We’ve asked her where she gotten them but she couldn’t remember. Do you?”

Merlin shook his head. “No, this is the first time I’ve heard of it.”

Harper nodded. “Well, we’d like to keep her overnight for observation. We’ll know more when the blood work is done.”

Merlin nodded. He understood the reason for overnight observation, but he didn’t like it. Since his mother got sick, he was always scared that

he would come home and find her dead on the floor. Merlin swore he’d do everything he could to stop that from happening.

“Can I see her,” he asked.

Harper looked hesitant before nodding.

“But only for a few minutes,” he said. “It’s way past visiting hours and she should be resting.”

“Of course,” said Merlin and went into the room they put Hunith in.

Walking into his mother’s dimly lit room he was shocked to see how much Hunith had changed since he saw her before going to the banquet. Her face was so pale she looked like a ghost and there were black bags under her eyes. The only sign of life was the beep of the heart monitor and the slow rise and fall of her chest. Walking up to her he took her hand into his.

“Mum, it’s Merlin,” he said softly. “You have to get better, Mum. If you get sick again, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

He took a deep breath to calm himself.

“I met him, Mum. Excalibur. I met him and he’s Arthur Pendragon. He’s my boss’s son. What the hell am I supposed to do now? When we talked, it was so easy. It was like it was online. It flowed. Like when you said it was like with Dad. How easy it had been to talk to him.

“But he doesn’t know it’s me. He doesn’t know that I’m Merlin Emrys. He thinks I’m some rich guy that drives a Porsche and party every Friday night. He doesn’t know who I really am and I don’t know what to do.”

“Get him to know you.”

Merlin looked up in surprise to see Hunith away and looking at him with dazed eyes but still fully awake. He sat up in surprise.

“Mum! Should you be awake? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Merlin, I’m fine,” she said waving his concern in dismissal. Merlin sighed in partial relief because Hunith was awake and coherent. “Now, tell me what happened tonight and start at the beginning.”

Merlin did, starting with how he met Excalibur a couple months ago online to meeting him that night and finding out he was Arthur Pendragon. He ended the story to when he ran out of the banquet after receiving Freya’s phone call.

“Is this the same Arthur Pendragon you’ve been griping about for the last four years?” she asked and he nodded. “Well, he doesn’t sound like such a bad boy.”

Merlin sputtered in shock.

“But, Mum, he’s my boss’s son! If I start a relationship with him, that’ll be the end of my life!”

“Or maybe the start of it,” she gave him a sad smile. “Baby, I know you put your life on hold because of me. I never meant to get sick, but I never wanted you to make taking care of me your only priority. I want you to go out and find someone. I want you to fall in love and live.”

“Even if that someone is Arthur Pendragon?” asked Merlin.

“If he makes you happy, then yes.”

“I can’t. His father is a homophobic prick. If Arthur’s found out, then Uther’s going to kill him. I can’t do that to him.”

“A parent should love their child no matter what,” she said. “And if you have a chance on love, Merlin, take it before it’s too late.”

“Let’s get you well first,” said Merlin. Hunith groaned.

“Merlin…”

“After you’re well, then I’ll tell him.”

“You’re stalling.”

“I’m prioritizing.” She gave him a look and he laughed. “I’ll think about it, okay?”

Hunith yawned, the drugs taking effect on her again. “Okay, now go home. You must be exhausted.”

“I will. Just till you go back to sleep.”

“Okay,” said Hunith and closed her eyes.

Merlin sat at the end of the bed to wait for her to sleep, and stayed long after sleep claimed her.

XXXXXX

“I wonder where Merlin ran off to,” asked Will as they packed up their equipment.

“I don’t know,” said Gwen. “I saw him by the dance floor and the next, he was gone.”

“You think he met up with Excalibur?”

Gwen smiled softly. “I hope so. He was so nervous about meeting him. I hope he’s a nice guy and not a complete arse like Arthur.”

Will smirk humorously.

“Didn’t you have a crush on Arthur at one point?” he asked and received a painful smack on the arm. “Ow!”

“Shut it!” said Gwen annoyed but smiling.

“Pardon me?”

Gwen and Will turned to see a woman dressed in a black dress walk up to them. Her brown hair was done up in a fashionable bun with jeweled pins keeping it in place and diamonds hung on her ears and around her neck. The white mask she had been wearing was currently in her hand and she smiled at them in a friendly manner which showed the slight gap in her teeth.

“Hello,” she said. “My name is Helen Mora. I’m CEO of Mora Production Studio.”

Gwen and Will gaped at her.

“Mora Production Studio?” said Gwen coming out of the shock first. “Number one in music production in England?” ¶Helen smiled at them.

“Yes, I believe so, though we try not to boast about it,” she said. “I love the music you sung here and was wondering if you’d like to work for me.”

Both Will and Gwen was in shock. Mora Production was the best music label in England and here the CEO was asking them to let her produce them.

“Hi, I’m Gwen Smith,” said Gwen coming out of her shock. “Actually, we just sing for fun, but our friend, Merlin, does want to be a song writer. He wrote a lot of the songs I sung tonight.”

“Really?” said Helen interested. “Where is he? I would like to speak with him.”

“I’ll call him,” said Will. “See where he is.”

Helen nods.

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll wait.”

Will pulled out his phone and dialed Merlin but it immediately went to voicemail. He tried several times before giving up.

“It’s going to voicemail,” he said worriedly. “He only does that when it’s important or an emergency.”

“I hope everything’s all right,” said Helen, also sounding concerned.

“I saw him talking to Gwaine and Percival a bit ago,” said Gwen. “I’ll ask him if he’s seen Merlin.”

“In the meantime, can you give him my card?” Helen handed Gwen a card that had Helen’s name and phone number on it. “I would love to schedule an audition. I’m always looking for new songwriters and I believe I can use his.”

“Yes, of course,” said Gwen. “I’m sorry he couldn’t be here to meet you. I know he wouldn’t have left if it wasn’t important.”

“I completely understand,” said Helen. “Unlike some people here, I’m not all business all the time. That’s what I want with my employees as well. Tell your friend I’m more than looking forward to hearing from him.”

“Of course,” said Will.

With a final smile, Helen walked away. Gwen and Will watched her leave for a moment before getting excited.

“Helen Mora, can you believe it,” said Gwen.

“Merlin’s going to freak!” said Will. “His songs are finally getting recognized. This was what he was waiting for since he first picked up a guitar.”

“I know. Isn’t it amazing? Wait until we tell him.” She looked around the ballroom. “We just have to find him first.”

“Let’s go talk to Gwaine,” said Will and they walked over to their friend.

“Will, Gwen, great show,” said Gwaine. His arm was around Percival who gave them a curt nod in greeting.

“Hi, Gwaine, Percy,” said Will through Gwen’s attention was stuck on the third member of their friends’ party.

“Gwen, Will, This is Lancelot Lake,” said Gwaine. “Lancelot, this is Gwen and Will, Merlin’s friends.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Lancelot shaking Will’s hand and kissing the knuckles of Gwen’s, startling her out of her daze.

“Thanks,” she said tugging her hand back. “Gwaine, have you seen Merlin?”

“Yeah,” said Gwaine sadly. “He borrowed my car. Hunith’s in the hospital.”

“Oh God, that’s awful,” said Gwen. “And he was really looking forward to meeting Excalibur.”

“Merlin was meeting someone tonight?” asked Percival.

“Yes,” said Will. “Some guy who goes by Excalibur. We lost him in the crowd and didn’t see if he meet anyone or not.”

“That’s weird,” said Lancelot. “Arthur was supposed to meet someone here too. Said his name was ‘Wizard’.”

Gwen and Will looked at each other in shock.

“You don’t think…” said Gwen.

“Frigging small world,” finished Will.

“That’s what we said,” said Percival.

“Wait, wait, wait,” said Gwaine. “Are you saying that Merlin is Wizard?”

“Yes,” said Gwen. “He was so nervous about meeting Excalibur tonight. We practically had to drag him here.”

Percival looked over at Lancelot.

“You owe me a tenner,” he said. Lancelot grumbled and handed over a ten pound note.

“You guys bet on Arthur without me?!” said Gwaine in a hurt voice.

“Yes, because you cheat,” said Percival giving his boyfriend a stern look. Gwaine pouted, obviously hurt.

“There’s just one problem,” said Will. “Merlin hates Arthur’s guts. And I’m pretty sure Arthur thinks Merlin is pond scum.”

Gwaine laughed.

“I saw those two,” said Gwaine. “If that’s what hate looks like then I’ll be surprised to see what love looks like.”

“Does Arthur know about Merlin?” asked Gwen.

Lancelot shook his head.

“I’m not sure Merlin gave Arthur his name,” he said. “Just described him.”

“Why would he do that?” asked Will.

“Nerves, probably,” said Gwen. “I’m going to call Merlin and see how Hunith is.”

“If he’s in the hospital, his phone will be off,” said Lancelot.

“I’ll still leave a voicemail,” said Gwen and dialed. As Lancelot said, his phone was off. “Merlin, it’s Gwen. Gwaine told Will and me about Hunith. We’ll be at your house waiting for you. See you later.”

She hung up and turned to Will.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s get to Merlin’s and wait for him.”

“Call us on what Merlin knows on Arthur,” said Percival.

“You too on Arthur,” said Gwen and both friends left.

“Stubborn, the both of them,” said Gwaine.

“But they really do go together,” said Lancelot.

“Thinking of playing matchmaker, Lance,” said Percival giving his friend a sly look.

“If I need to, plus it’ll get me close to Merlin’s friend.”

Gwaine laughed.

“Always an ulterior motive, Lance,” he said. Lance shrugged.

“It’s not fun if I don’t get something out of it,” he said.

Gwaine continued to laugh and Percival shook his head.

TBC

Chapter Text

Where are you? I need to see you again. I need to know who you are.

That had been the email he sent early Sunday morning after the party had ended and everyone went home. He waited for hours for a reply, falling asleep at his computer and only waking up when Morgana announced she was leaving for her mother’s for the week. Arthur said farewell half-heartedly, upset that Wizard hadn’t answered yet. He waited for the rest of Sunday for a reply, waving up invites from friends just so he wouldn’t miss it, but one never came.

On Monday Arthur sat down in his English Lit class and pulled out his folder, book and notebook. He had spent all of Sunday wondering who Wizard was but came up short. He tried to think of all the students who might fit Wizard profile but came up short. Then he reminded himself that he didn’t know everyone in the university so he could be someone he hadn’t “met”.

The door to the classroom opened and he looked up to see Merlin walk in, backpack full of books. Arthur watched as Merlin set the bag down and pull out the text book. Was it his imagination, or did Merlin glance at him. Yeah, definitely his imagination.

The teacher walks in and immediately orders the class to settle. For the first time Arthur could remember, the class went painfully slow. When the bell rang, he couldn’t get out fast enough.

The next class was just as slow, not only because it was his Business Management class. Even through Arthur never paid much attention in the class, he always made sure to take notes to prove to his dad that he was taking the class. By the time the bell rang, he was more than ready to get out and go to lunch. He joined his friends at the usual lunch table.

“What’s up with you?” asked Elyan. “Thought you’d be ecstatic to meet your mystery man.”

“I was, but he ran off before I got his name,” said Arthur.

Lancelot looked at him in surprise.

“What do you mean he didn’t give you his name?” he asked. “Did you give him yours?”

“Actually, he already knew my name.”

“Really,” said Percival. “He knows you.”

Arthur nodded.

“But I don’t know his.”

“Why not?” asked Elyan.

“He said I didn’t earn it yet.”

“Oooh, playing hard to get,” said Gwaine with glee. Percival slapped him upside the head.

“What did he look like,” asked Percival.

“I could only see his eyes and half his face,” said Arthur. “He was wearing a mask.” He paused at the memory of the man that had plagued his thoughts for the last forty-eight hours. “He had the bluest eyes.”

“Wow,” said Gwaine. “How long did you spend with the guy?”

“An hour.”

“You fell in love with him after an hour?” asked Elyan in surprise.

“I think he feel in love long before that night,” said Percival.

Arthur didn’t say anything, but he couldn’t help silently agreeing with his friend. He did fall in love with Wizard long before that night. Now he only wants to talk to him face to face for more than an hour. To spend every second with him. Call him late night on the phone and talk about everything and nothing. He wanted to do every sappy romantic thing Morgana shoved down his throat.

But now he had nothing to go one except black hair and blue eyes. Even he knew it was foolish to start a search on those aspects alone.

“Maybe we can get Gwen to do a profile sketch,” said Elyan. “She’s good with that artsy stuff.”

“I want to find him, not arrest him,” said Arthur.

“What else are you going to do?”

“Tell us about him,” said Lancelot. “Maybe we can find out who he is that way.”

“Well, he’s a student here. And he wants to write music. He likes pizza, music, books, his favorite movie is Robin Hood; The Prince of Thieves and his favorite book is Le Morte de Arthur.”

All our friends tried to not fidget in their chairs and give themselves away on knowing who Wizard was. They wanted to tell Arthur that Merlin was Wizard but until they knew how Arthur felt about Merlin, they couldn’t say anything.

“So what do I do?” asked Arthur after several minutes of finding out if their two friends were going to live or not.

“Put up posters saying ‘Prince Charming seeks Cinderella Man?’” said Gawain with humor. Percival slapped him up side his head. “Ow!”

“I’m thinking something a little less public,” said Arthur.

“Well, you said you both connected right? And he knows who you are,” said Elyan looking up as Merlin, Gwen and Will walked in. “Maybe he’ll come to you.”

Arthur thought about that for a moment. He never thought about that before. Maybe Wizard would come to him. It could happen.

“Hey, Merlin,” said Gawain as both passed. “Hey, Gwen.”

Merlin stopped next to Arthur in surprise, clearing anxious about something. His eyes darted from Arthur to his Complete Works of William Shakespeare in his hands. Arthur noticed there were sleep deprived bags under Merlin’s eyes, suggesting that the man spent the last couple of days in sleeplessness.

“H-Hi,” he said nervously.

“How’s your mom?” asked Gwaine.

Merlin had spent all of Sunday worrying over his mother praying her cancer wasn’t back and had been unable to sleep Sunday night. By the time he had gotten to sleep, he only gotten two hours before his alarm went off. He was also worried on how he would act if he saw Arthur again. He knew he couldn’t tell Arthur it was him he had met Saturday night.

He had also been nervous and excite when Gwen and Will came to his house and told him about Helen Mora. He was so excited he nearly threw up. He hadn’t called her yet because it was Sunday and he didn’t want to seem eager.

He turned to Gwaine.

“The doctors say she’s doing better but they’re still waiting for the blood work until they have a definite answer,” he said.

“I hope she’s all right,” said Arthur sincerely. Merlin looked at him in surprise.

“Um, thanks,” he said. “I’ll see you all later.”

He turned to go to the table his friends were keeping for him.

“Oh, wait, Merlin,” said Arthur calling after him. Merlin turned to look at him curiously. “I’ll meet you at the library to study after classes. Is that all right?”

“Okay, I have the day off from work today anyway,” said Merlin smiling and turned to leave. Arthur watched for a moment. There was something familiar about Merlin’s smile.

“Did I hear it right?’ asked Gwaine in fake flabbergast. “Did the great Arthur Pendragon agree to be tutored?”

“I believe he did, dear Gwaine, I believe he did,” said Elyan in the same teasing tone.

“Shut up,” said Arthur throwing a roll at them.

At the table where Merlin and his friends sat, he was debating on whether to tell Arthur that he was the man he had met two nights before. Gwen and Will were of course adamant that he tell Arthur straight away. He had told his two friends what had occurred Saturday night and they shocked to find out that Arthur that Excalibur. ¶“Merlin, you have to tell him,” said Gwen encouragingly.

“I can’t,” said Merlin. “We live in two different worlds. There is no way we could possibly be together.”

“How do you know,” said Will.

“Because a guy like me don’t get a fairy tale ending.”

“Well, dreams do come true,” said Gwen holding up the card from Helen Mora. “Call her.”

“Why? To get rejected?” asked Merlin.

“She wouldn’t have given me her card if she wanted to reject you. Call her.”

Sighing, Merlin grabbed the card, pulled out his old flip phone and dialed in the number. He put the phone to his ear and waited for an answer.

“Helen Mora’s office, how may I help you,” said a chipper but bored voice of what could only be Helen’s secretary.

“This is Merlin Emrys,” he said nervously. “I, uh, got a card from Ms. Mora and she asked me to call her. I don’t know if it’s a bad time or…”

“One moment please,” said the secretary and Merlin heard the all too familiar “Hold” music.

“Well?” asked Will.

“I’m on hold,” said Merlin.

“Well, she is a busy person,” said Gwen. “I’d be surprised if she even answers.”

"Mr. Emrys, Ms. Mora will speak with you now,” said the secretary.

There was a click on the other end.

“Mr. Emrys, I’ve been looking forward on hearing from you,” said Helen.

“Yes, uh, thank you, Ms. Mora,” said Merlin, forcing himself not to stammer but failing horribly. “I’m sorry I didn’t meet you on Saturday. I had a family emergency…”

“Say no more, Merlin,” said Helen. “From what I hear from your friends, you’re a very reliable young man. It must have been very important for you to run off at an important event in a hurry.”

“It was,” said Merlin, keeping the guilt from his voice. “So, my friends tell me you like my songs?”

“I think they’re the liveliest I’ve heard in a long time,” said Helen. “I really would like to hear more.”

“Of course, I have disks loaded with songs.”

“One will do. When can you come in?”

“I got classes and then I have to tutor a student, but I can come in on Friday. I have a day off from work.”

“I can pencil you in for one o’clock,” said Helen. “Can you make it then?”

“Yeah,” said Merlin excited. He’d miss a couple of classes but he couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this.

"Good, I’ll see you Friday. My secretary will tell you what you need to bring so you can be prepared. Have a good day, Mr. Emrys.”

“You too, Ms. Mora, and thank you,” said Merlin before the she hung up. He listened to the secretary tell him what he need to bring and thanked her too. He hung up and stared gobsmacked at his friends.

“Well?” asked Gwen excited.

“She wants to listen to more of my songs,” said Merlin shocked.

Gwen’s scream of delight could be heard all around the cafeteria. She jumped off her chair and crushed Merlin in a hug. Will was grinning from ear to ear and laughed at his friend’s antics.

“Oh, Merlin, this is amazing!” she said. “When?”

“Friday,” he said and realization struck him. “Oh God, Helen Mora is going to listen to my songs.”

“She heard your songs,” said Will. “At the benefit Saturday night. She wouldn’t have asked us to give you her card if she didn’t like what she heard.”

It took a moment for Merlin to get out of his shock and realize that Will was right. Since Merlin made the decision to be a song writer, he always knew that it would probably take years before he even heard one of his songs on the radio. He always knew he wanted to write for Mora Studios. Helen Mora was said to be a fair producer and employees always had good things to say about working there.

He heard laughter and looked over to see Gwaine and Elyan laughing at something. He saw Sophia glaring at Arthur’s table with her friends offering support around her. The breakup between Arthur and Sophia became well known not long after it happened. A lot of people gave emotional support to both Arthur and Sophia, telling each that the other was a jerk or a dick or a bitch. Merlin had a feeling he had a feeling what was behind the break up.

Him. Arthur broke up with Sophia to be with him, and while he should be flattered by it, it was Arthur Pendragon. Once he finds out that his “true love” was Merlin Emrys, the shit will hit the fan. They were from two different worlds and no matter how much Gwen wanted him to be, he wasn’t Cinderella. There was no fairy godmother changing his rags into a beautiful gown with glass slippers, he didn’t have to run home at midnight when the spell ran its course and he didn’t have two wicked stepsisters and a stepmother to slave for.

Instead, he’s tending to a sick mother, slaving at a hotel for socialites to pay for college and bills, and struggling to write songs. He may have had one night of fantasy, but he knew that it would never last. All he could do now was get through one day at a time.

“What songs are you going to use?” asked Will.

“I have no idea,” said Merlin, “but I got a few ideas.”

“This is great!” said Gwen. “First you meet Prince Charming and now you get to audition for one of the major music studios in the world. Life is looking up for you.”

“Well, something good is happening,” said Merlin glancing at Arthur’s table before taking a bite from his sandwich.

XXXXXX

Arthur walked to the library still upset on not finding Lonewiard, but somewhat excited to be studying with Merlin. The young man was refreshing. He heard talk around the hotel on how reliant he was and Arthur wanted to know if it was true.

As he neared the library, he noticed a man leaning against the building as if waiting for someone. As he neared he saw that it was Mordred le Fey. He had seen the young man many times at the hotel. As Arthur neared, Mordred pushed off the building and walked toward him. Arthur stopped in confusion.

“Arthur Pendragon,” said Mordred smiling.

“Yes?” said Arthur, confused.

“I’m Wizard.”

TBC