“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!”
“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?”
“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.
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.”
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.”
Sophie cleared her throat, loudly, and Arthur looked at her.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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?”
“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.
"Done" is by the Band Perry
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Are you over your rebellion yet?” she asked.
“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.
The songs were “I Love It” by Irona Pop and “Strange” by Reba.
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.”
“Strenuous activity. For goodness sake, Merlin. I’m making breakfast, not having sex."
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.
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 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?
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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?”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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…”
“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?”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
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…”
Morgana’s mouth gaped open.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
-Songs; 1000 Miles by Vanessa Carlton, Piano Man by Billy Joel, Walking on Sunshine by Katrine and the Waves
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.”
“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?”
“No,” said Merlin. “I, uh, I’m not interested in girl like that.”
He looked at Arthur warily. Arthur looked at him in shock.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“Unfortunately, you can’t change society,” said Merlin.
“Maybe not, but I can change something.”
Merlin gave him a disbelieving look.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“After you’re well, then I’ll tell him.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.”
“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?”
“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.
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.
Merlin looked from the text book to his watch, as he had been doing every ten minutes for the past twenty. As soon a class ended, Merlin headed to the library. He expected Arthur to not be long after him, but after a half hour waiting, he wondered if Arthur was going to show up or if the blonde was just pulling his leg.
He was nervous on tutoring Arthur now that he knew that Arthur was Excalibur. He didn’t want Arthur to learn that he was Wizard. He liked Arthur, a lot, but he didn’t want something that could never happen. He knew what would happen if Arthur found out that Merlin was Wizard. No man with a thousand dollar car would want a bag boy for a boyfriend.
Arthur was now a half hour late. Exasperated and irritated, he grabbed his phone and dialed. He wished he had gotten Arthur’s phone number, that would have been the smart then to do, but he’d have to settle for second best.
It run twice before it was answered.
“He’s that annoying?” asked Gwaine with a laugh.
“You mean he’s not with you?” said Merlin confused.
Gawain looked in surprise at Percival, who cocked an eyebrow questioningly.
“No, last I heard he was heading to the library see you and that was a half hour ago.”
“Well, he’s not here. I’ve been waiting a half hour. I figured he’d be with you or Lancelot.”
“Nope, Lance is on a date. Arthur would only interrupt that if his life depended on it.”
“Can you call him and find out why’s he’s not here?” asked Merlin.
“Sure. Give me a minute.”
Gwaine hung up and started dialing Arthur.
“What’s wrong?” asked Percival.
“Arthur is late for his date with Merlin,” said Gwaine.
“Why would Arthur not be with Merlin?”
“I don’t know,” said Gwaine as Arthur picked up the phone.
“Gwaine, hi,” said Arthur almost happily.
“Arthur, why aren’t you tutoring with Merlin? He’s at the library waiting.”
“Oh, sorry, Gwaine,” said Arthur. “I got sidetracked.”
“By what?” asked Gwaine.
“Gwaine, I found him.”
Gwaine blinked in surprise and turned to Percival.
“Wizard. I found him.”
Gwaine’s mouth gaped in shock. If Arthur had found out who Wizard was, then why wasn’t he with Merlin?
“Who?” he asked.
“It’s Mordred. Mordred le Fey.”
Gwaine almost dropped his phone in shock. Gwaine knew of Mordred le Fey. The man continually hit on every gay man that walked in the hotel. Merlin told Gwaine that he lost track of how many times he had caught Mordred walking out of a room disheveled and looking thoroughly shagged. If Mordred was making Arthur believe that he was Wizard, than something was going on.
“Arthur, are you sure?” he asked.
“We’ve been talking for a half hour, and he knows everything about me. It’s been great.”
“Arthur, he can find things about you on the internet.”
“No, it’s more than that. Trust me, Gwaine. It’s him.”
“But what about Merlin?” Gwaine hoped that by mentioning the other boy’s name, Arthur would get his priorities set and hopefully hit it off with Merlin.
“Can you tell him I’m sorry and that I’ll meet up with him tomorrow? I want to spend more time with Mordred.”
“Uh, okay,” said Gwaine.
“Thanks,” said Arthur happily and hung up. Gwaine hung up and turned to Percival in shock.
“Arthur thinks Mordred le Fey is Wizard?” asked Percival, also shocked.
“Yeah,” said Gwaine.
“Mordred apparently has information, private information, on Arthur. Arthur really believes Mordred is Wizard.”
“God,” said Percival still in shock. “Should we tell Merlin?”
Gwaine thought hard for a minute. According to Gwen, Merlin had been apprehensive on meeting Excalibur. From how Merlin acted around Arthur, it was obvious the other man didn’t want Arthur to know who he was, but why? By telling Merlin that Mordred was portraying himself as Wizard, it would obviously hurt him, and Merlin had enough hurt in his life.
“Not yet,” he said. “Let’s find out how this goes.”
He dialed and waited for Merlin to answer.
“So?” asked Merlin.
“Arthur said something came up,” said Gwaine. “He said he’d meet with you tomorrow. Some place, same time.”
Merlin groans. He had to work tomorrow, but luckily he had the dinner shift at the restaurant. He could easily squeeze Arthur in for a tutor session.
“Stupid clodpole,” said Merlin angrily. “Fine. I’ll see him tomorrow.”
Both hung up. He turned to see Percival giving him a skeptical look.
“We should have told him,” said Percival.
“If we told him now, there would be anger and guilt and a whole lot of emotional mess that we can’t deal with right now. Merlin’s a nice guy, but he gets in over his head. If he finds out that Mordred is claiming to be Wizard, everything will go down the loo. Better to get to the bottom of this and send the bastard packing, and then get Arthur set up with the real Wizard so we all can live happily ever after.”
“You just want a chance to play fairy godmother don’t you?’ asked Percival with a slight smile. Gwaine smiled back.
“Duh,” he said.
“Question is, why would Mordred say he’s Wizard? How does he even know about Wizard and Excalibur?”
“I don’t know, but it can’t be good,” said Gwaine. “You know he drives a Mercedes? No way is he paying for that with a waiter’s salary.”
“So, you think Mordred’s after Arthur for his money?” asked Percival.
“Maybe, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
“Sure thing, Sherlock.”
Percival paused in thought.
“What if Arthur mentions Mordred during their tutor sessions?” he asked.
Merlin stuffed his phone back into his pocket and started packing up his books. He couldn’t believe the nerve of Arthur. The guy all but ordered Merlin to be at the library at a specific time, but never showed up for some apparent reason. He had better things to do with his time than tutor some hot shot rich brat who was more than likely going to inherit daddy’s big company whether he got a business degree or not.
Throwing his pack over his shoulder, he walked out of the library, nodding a farewell to the head librarian, Geoffrey, and walked out. Hopefully, he’d be able to catch the next bus home. He only had to wait a few minutes until the bus came and he climbed on. As he took a seat he pulled out his phone and dialed.
“He can’t be that bad,” said Will, reminding Merlin of what Gwaine said a couple minutes ago. Merlin would have called Gwen, but she was on some mysterious date.
“He never came,” said Merlin.
Merlin cringed at his friend’s outburst and looked around to see if anyone else had heard it. Luckily, no one else seemed to have heard it.
“Why?” asked Will when Merlin put the phone back to his ear.
“Apparently, he had something more important to do,” said Merlin.
“But you still get paid, right?”
“I should hope so, or else I’m doing this for nothing.”
“What are you going to do now?” asked Will.
“Study. I got a test in poetry and Musical Composition. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Merlin hung up and shut his phone off and stuffed it in his pocket he pulled out his poetry textbook and started to read.
Arthur hung up after talking with Gwaine and put his phone back in his pocket. He felt horrible for ditching Merlin to talk with Mordred. He had been looking forward to studying with Merlin and explain further why he needed a tutor, but then Mordred showed up outside of the library. He was shocked when he found out that Mordred was Wizard. Of all the people he’d thought would be Wizard, Mordred want one of them.
He looked back at Mordred who was waiting at the table in the cafe they were currently drinking coffee in. while he was happy to finally “meet” Wizard again, he did feel something was a wrong. What Gwaine had said stuck in his head. There were a lot of stuff about him that could be found over the internet, but a lot of what they were discussing only what they said in private emails and chats. He was sure that Mordred was Wizard.
Mordred sat in the café, confident that his plan was going well. He had Sophia pay a hairdresser to cut his hair in the same style that Merlin had it at the banquet and he had to play down his clothes. He was too used to his designer clothes and now has to wear clothes from a thrift store. And they itched.
He looked up as Arthur spoke on the phone. He couldn’t believe how hard it was to be Merlin. There were a lot of things he knew about Merlin since he often spied on the other man during breaks while he spoke with his friends and followed him to his gigs. He had known for a while that Arthur was Excalibur and that Wizard was Merlin, through how to the two idiots didn’t figure it out he’d never know. He knew all of Merlin’s likes and dislikes so it was easy to find topics for conversation with Arthur, it was his backstory that he needed cleared up.
The problem was he hated most of the things Merlin liked. He didn’t see anything interesting about the Doctor Who series or its spinoffs. He was never adept at music, had no clue on how to play the guitar and couldn’t grasp classical literature. How Merlin could get into any of that stuff was beyond him.
He saw movement and saw that Arthur had hung up. Mordred straightened in his chair and smiled at Arthur.
“What did Gwaine want?” he asked.
“I completely forgot that I was to have a study session with Merlin,” said Arthur sitting down. “I said I’d make it up to him tomorrow.”
“What do you need to study for?” asked Mordred. He was thankful that Sophia texted him as soon as she overheard Arthur make plans to study with Merlin. He needed to separate the two if his plan was to work.
“Hotel Business,” said Arthur.
“I can help you with that.”
Arthur thought for a moment. Mordred did work at the hotel with Merlin, but he made a deal with Merlin to have the other boy tutor him and a Pendragon never backs away from a deal.
“No,” he said shaking his head. “I made a deal with Merlin and I’m going to keep it.”
Mordred frowned at Arthur’s response. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He had to keep the two away from each other. If Arthur learned who Wizard really was, everything would blow up in his face.
“Arthur, I want to go on a date with you,” he said with a flirty grin. Arthur looked at him in surprise.
“Really? But my dad…”
“We’ll keep it discreet. Two friends hanging out together for a night on the town.”
Arthur thought for a moment. Having a date with Wizard was a dream come true for him since they started communicating through the college website.
“Yes,” he said.
“And, Arthur,” said Mordred, “we can’t tell anyone.”
“But my friends know I’m gay. They’ll understand…”
“No, Arthur, they’ll never understand.” Mordred places a hand on Arthur’s in sympathy. “Your friends, Merlin, they’ve never liked me. I don’t know why, but they don’t. You can’t tell them about us, Arthur. If you do, they’ll try to tear us apart. Promise me you won’t say anything.”
Arthur looked at Mordred in surprise. Arthur’s friends knew how much Arthur wanted to meet Wizard, and to keep it from them felt wrong to Arthur. When he told Gwaine who Wizard was, Gwaine was very surprised but didn’t sound like he hated the man. Only cautious. Arthur didn’t think Gwaine would act against Mordred after knowing how much Arthur wanted to meet him. That wasn’t how Gwaine was.
Lancelot was laughing at something his date said when his phone went off. He frowned when he saw who had sent him the text. Gwaine knew better than to call him on a date. Whatever it had to be important otherwise Gwaine wouldn’t have sent it. Opening the text he stared in surprise at what was written.
Red Alert! Meeting at my place ASAP
The alert of his date’s phone told him she got the same message.
“Wonder what that’s about,” said Gwen.
“I don’t know, but we better find out,” said Lancelot. “Gwaine only sends out a red alert when it’s really serious.”
Paying for their meal, Gwen and Lancelot left and drove to Gwaine’s and Percival’s place as quickly as traffic would allow. They both received a look of surprise when they arrived together.
“Shut up,” said Lancelot. “Is everyone here?”
“Almost,” said Gwaine. “We just have to wait for Will.”
“Here,” said Will walking through the door. “What’s this about?”
“Arthur meet with Mordred le Fey, and now thinks Mordred is Wizard,” said Percival, cutting to the case.
“What?!” said Gwen and Will.
“How the hell did this happen?” asked Elyan.
“More important, how did he find out about Wizard and Excalibur,” said Lancelot.
“We don’t know,” said Gwaine. “I’m guessing he has some kind of hacking skills or something, because Arthur gave him questions that only Wizard would answer. He truly believes Mordred is the one.”
“What are we going to do,” asked Elyan.
“Are we going to tell them?” asked Gwen.
“I’ve thought of that, but every scenario I could think of turns out bad,” said Gwaine. “We have to get Arthur and Merlin to fall in love with each other as Arthur and Merlin, or else they’ll never will.”
“So what do we do?” asked Elyan again.
“Looks like we’re going to have to start Operation Merthur,” said Will.
“Merthur,” asked Percival confused. “Arthur and Merlin together,” said Will. “I would have called it ‘Operation Get Merlin and Arthur to Fall in Love With Each Other’ but that would be a mouthful.”
“That would be a mouthful,” said Lancelot. “Merthur it is.”
“So, where do we start?” asked Gwen.
Immediately, all the friends start throwing ideas around, and Operation Merthur began.
Merlin was so nervous he was going to puke, which was funny considering he barely ate all day. Too nervous to eat. He was sitting in the lobby of Mora Studios wearing his best white button down shirt and black trousers. Gwen wanted him to wear a tie but he sternly told her he’d rather choke himself. The tie never made it to the assemble.
He had been waiting anxiously the whole week after he called Helen Mora and scheduled an interview. He went through his own recordings, looking for the perfect song to use during the interview and finally found one he hoped that Helen would like. He had the CD and the folder with the lyrics and score in it. He was a nervous wreck all week and less than confidant that Helen would like his music.
The only thing that brightened Merlin’s day was his tutoring sessions with Arthur. It wasn’t just Hotel Management Arthur needed help with. Knowing how good Merlin was in school, Arthur asked Merlin’s help in every class they had together. They had fun writing essays and Arthur even helped Merlin with his poetry assignment. He didn’t know the blonde had good poetry sense until he started quoting a Shakespearian sonnet. Merlin never told Arthur that he wanted to be a songwriter, so the blonde believed that he was really into poetry. More than once he wanted to tell Arthur that he was Wizard, but he kept himself from saying anything. Despite how much they talked, Merlin didn’t know anything about Arthur’s world, and Arthur didn’t know anything about his. It was best if it stayed that way.
They didn’t just talk about their classes. They would talk about things outside of classes as well, Arthur usually the one striking up a conversation because Merlin was too scared to reveal himself to say a word. After his initial fear abates, Merlin enjoys the conversations and listens to Arthur like it was the first time.
The only thing that darkened it was Mordred. It seemed that wherever Merlin was, Mordred was there. Merlin would think the man was stalking him if it wasn’t just at work. He was glad that Mordred didn’t go to classes with him or follow him home or he would really be panicking. He didn’t know what had happened to the man to make him creepier, but Merlin wished Mordred would stay out of his business.
Now he was so nervous his leg was shaking. He grabbed his knee to force it to stop.
“Yes?” said Merlin, a little too loudly, looking up at a man with a clipboard and glasses. Very secretary type. He cleared his throat. “That’s me.”
“I’m Bill Ramsey, Ms. Mora’s secretary,” said the man. “Ms. Mora will see you now. If you’ll follow me.”
The man turned and started walking toward a set of elevators. Merlin hurried to grab his things and follow. He stood next to the man in the elevator as he pressed a button for the top floor.
“Nervous?” asked Bill, noticing how Merlin was shaking. Merlin gave a nervous laugh.
“Am I that obvious?” he said.
“Don’t worry. Helen will talk to you, but she’ll listen to your music more. It’s the music that’ll tell her everything she needs to know about you.”
“Because music’s universal,” said Merlin in understanding. Bill nodded.
“Now you got it.”
Now, Merlin was less nervous. They rode the rest of the way up in silence. When the doors finally opened Merlin walked into a lavish lounge with a secretary desk in front of a ceiling to floor window with a nice view of the city. To the side was a pair of double oak doors. Merlin’s nervousness returned.
Bill walked to the desk and pressed a button on the intercom.
“Ma’am,” he said. “Merlin Emrys is here.”
“Send him in,” come Helen’s voice through the speakers.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Bill and went to the doors and opened them. Nervous, Merlin walked through.
The room was spacious with couches, chairs, a television and stereo system. Helen Mora sat behind a desk and smiled as Merlin walked in.
“Mr. Emrys, welcome,” she said walking around the desk to shake his hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”
“You as well, Ms. Mora,” said Merlin. “You don’t know what an honor this is.”
“Please, call me Helen. We don’t stand on ceremony here.” She waved to the couches and Merlin sat down. “Would you like something to drink? Tea, water, soda?”
“Water, please,” he said.
Helen nodded to Bill who served them both a glass of water.
“When I heard your songs at the benefit, I must say I was impressed,” she said. “Have you had any experience with music?”
“Only what I write down,” said Merlin taking a sip of the cold water. It felt good and helped calm his nerves.
“I hear you’re in college,” she said. “What classes are you taking?”
“Mostly literature courses, plus some poetry and Musical Composition. I’ve been writing poems since I could write, and when I first picked up a guitar, I knew I wanted to write music.”
“That’s usually when it starts,” said Helen smiling at him. “How about your parents? Do they support you in your writing?”
“My mum does,” he said. “But my dad died before I was born.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said sadly.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I never knew him so I’m not too choked up about it. I wish I did know him through. Mum would talk about him and it sounded like he was a great guy. She says I look like him.”
“A parent always sees a loved one in the eyes of their children,” said Helen. “And I’m sure that if your father was alive, he’d be proud of you too.”
Helen set her glass down.
“And your band, The Rejects, what are their plans for the future?”
“Gwen, our lead singer, wants to be a fashion designer. She hopes to one day design clothes for celebrities, and Will wants to be computer programmer. We just play for fun at my uncle’s bar on Friday nights.”
“That’s good. It’s good to have friends who support you, and yours seem to have gone the extra mile.”
“Yes,” said Merlin nodding. “I have a lot of friends, and all of them support me in my music career. They know it’ll be difficult, but they believe I can do it.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” said Helen. “Merlin, I have heard your songs before I met you, which is certainly a first for me. I certainly would like to hear more.”
“I have brought a track of one of my earlier songs,” said Merlin holding up the CD.
Helen made a gesture and Bill took the CD. He put the disk in the massive stereo and pressed play. There was a couple moment’s pause before Gwen’s voice came through.
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath/Scared to rock the boat and make a mess/ So I sat quietly, agreed politely/ I guess that I forgot I had a choice/ I let you push me past the breaking point/ I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)/Already brushing off the dust/ You hear my voice, you hear that sound/ Like thunder gonna shake the ground/ You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)/ Get ready cause I’ve had enough/I see it all, I see it now
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire/Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar/ Louder, louder than a lion/ Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar/ Oh oh oh oh oh oh/ Oh oh oh oh oh oh/ Oh oh oh oh oh oh/You’re gonna hear me roar
Helen was silent through the entire song. Once the song ended Bill pressed the stop button and returned the disk to its case. ¶“That was a very good song,” she said. “Very good. And early work, you say?”
“Yes. I wrote it while I was still in high school. The song’s pretty self-explanatory. You probably don’t have experience with that sort of thing.”
“On the contrary. I may have gone to private school and inherited this business, but I have had a run in with my fair share of bullies. I was the geek in school myself. I don’t run this business on my good looks.”
Merlin smiled at that. Helen really wasn’t a beautiful woman. With her dark hair and brown eyes, her face was rather plain and the gap between her teeth certainly wasn’t eye catching, but the woman had a strengt
about her that drew people in. Merlin could easily see why she was head of the top recording studio in the country.
“I really would like to work with you, and I’ll draw up a contract right away, but I got to warn you. Most artists won’t sing songs writers don’t sing themselves. There’s a music festival next month were a lot of music artist scout for new songs. I’m going to give you some advice, despite the bad business sense. I put your name on the list for the festival, and if you find a better offer than mine, I’ll back off, no questions ask. You have that long to decide.”
Merlin was shocked. He didn’t expect to be turned down during an interview. He saw how sincere Helen was and somehow knew that she wanted him to make the decision himself.
“And what would your offer be?” he asked.
She pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to him. He opened it and stared in amazement at the amount written on it.
“That…That much,” he said is shock. “P-Per song?”
“Yes, we like to compensate for anything.”
Merlin was still in shock. Were his songs worth that much? He had always thought they were pointless poems written on paper till his friends helped him find a rhythm to the words. To think that his songs were worth this much was mind boggling.
“I have to think about this,” he said. “This is…Wow.”
“I understand,” said Helen. “Take as much time as you need. If you find I better offer, I won’t be angry.”
“A better offer?! I doubt I would find one as good as that.”
“We’ll see. I hope to see you at the music festival in a month. A lot of music producers go to them to scout for new talent. I just hope they won’t steal you away.”
“I hope so too,” said Merlin and left.
“Mordred, please, I have to go,” said Arthur, trying to convince his almost-boyfriend that he had to leave. For some reason, every time Merlin was brought up Mordred got tense and clung harder. Arthur never knew why. Merlin was a nice guy. Good person to talk to once Arthur got him going, but Arthur was sure there was nothing Mordred would be jealous over.
“But I can teach you anything you want to know,” said Mordred. The comment had a sexual innuendo to it that had Arthur’s nerves twitching.
“A deal’s a deal, Mordred, and a Pendragon always makes good on their deals.”
“I bet they do,” said Mordred under his breath, almost angrily.
“Mordred, why don’t you like Merlin?” asked Arthur.
“Because he’s all you’ve been talking about since you come back from your first tutoring session. ‘Merlin this’, ‘Merlin that’. It’s annoying.”
“Sorry, Mordred.” Arthur had been talking about Merlin a lot, but they had so much in common that it was hard not to. The raven haired man was always hesitant when talking, as if not knowing what to say. They spent more time talking that studying and Arthur found himself anxiously waiting for each session. “I’ll try not to talk about him anymore.”
“Somehow, I doubt that,” said Mordred in a huff before kissing Arthur’s cheek. That was the most intimate contact they have had so far. Arthur wanted to take things slow. “Study hard, and no flirting.”
“I won’t,” said Arthur and left.
It didn’t take long for Arthur to get to the library and sitting on the steps outside was Merlin. They had been thrown out the day before because they were laughing hard at a show they both saw. Rather than disturb the students, or anger the librarian again, they decided to study outside the library.
“Hey, Merlin,” called Arthur, already excited about seeing the raven man. Merlin looked up from the book he was reading and smiled when he saw Arthur near. “What book are you reading this time?”
“The Silmarillion,” said Merlin setting the book in his bag and took out a text book. “Ready?”
“Yes,” said Arthur pulling out the essay that was due Monday that Merlin was going to review. It was mostly for spelling errors since Arthur knew most of the material. “Did you see the episode last night?”
“Yes, it was awesome!” Recently, both learned they had a love for a television series and would try to challenge the other into finding out who was the biggest fan. I can’t believe he did that, allowing an angel to ride passenger in his brother. Why would he do that?”
“His brother’s the only family he has left. If you had a chance to save your brother, would you do it?”
“I don’t have a brother, but I kind of understand. If anything happened to Will or Gwen and I’d have a chance to save them, I would take it.” He looked up from Arthur’s essay and smiled at him. “But you know it’s going to bite him in the ass.”
Arthur’s breathe caught in his throat at the sight of Merlin’s gorgeous smile. He was beautiful in a way. The smile was familiar somehow, making his heart race and his whole body shake.
Knowing Merlin expected an answer, he cleared his throat and smiled.
“Of course, that’s how they show they love each other.”
Merlin and Arthur laughed and they continued through the session. Halfway through, Carry On My Wayward Son filled the air and Merlin pulled out his phone.
“Sorry, it’s my mum,” he said and got up to answer it. He walked a bit away but Arthur could still hear bits of the conversation. “Yeah, Mum? …” His face contorted into fear. "W-What did he say? …” It changed into shock and then happiness. “That’s it? That’s-That’s amazing! Do you want me to come home? … You sure? … Okay, I will. Lasagna tonight. … No, I’m cooking. I’ll see later, okay? … Love you, too. Bye.”
He hung up, still grinning like a loon, and walked back to Arthur.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“That was my mum. She collapsed last week, thought her cancer was back, turns out it was just high blood pressure. The doctor’s going to give her a list of meds for her to take.” He sighs. “I was terrified I was going to lose her.”
“I’m glad you not,” said Arthur smiling at him sincerely. “I never met my mom, but I think she would have liked you.”
“Thanks,” said Merlin happily.
They went back to studying. When they were finished, Arthur’s phone went off and he answered it.
“Hey, Gwaine. … No, I just finished studying with Merlin. Why? … Sure, I’m game. … Hold on, I’ll ask him.” He lowered the phone and turned to Merlin. “Hey, do you want to join us in a football game? Gwaine and I are team captains this time and we get to pick the teams.”
“Sorry, hand/eye coordination not my game, but I’ll cheer for you,” said Merlin.
Arthur smiled. For some reason, He was glad that Merlin decided to watch. He turned back to his phone.
“He said he’d watch. … All right, I’ll meet you there.” He hung up. “Wait here, I’ll get my bike.”
“Your bike?’ asked Merlin in surprise. “As in a motorcycle?”
“Yeah, one of the many things my father would have my head rolling for id he found out. I’ll be back.”
He turned and left.
“Just so you’ll know, I’ll be cheering for Gwaine.”
Arthur laughed and he waved as he walked away to show that he heard. Merlin watched him leave, amazed with himself at agreeing to come with him a game between his friends. He was trying to avoid Arthur, and here he was agreeing to a game. He must be all kinds of crazy.
Picking up his bag, he started putting his book back in when movement caught his eye. Knowing it was the quad and always busy, he shouldn’t be surprised to see two people walking through, but when the two were Sophia Cooper and Mordred le Fey, then he’d be worried. Those two together was just all kinds of trouble, and Mordred wasn’t even a student. What was he doing here?
They turned a corner and out of sight. Seconds later, Merlin heard the sound of a motorcycle engine and turned to see Arthur riding a red motorcycle in front of the library. Of course his helmet would be gold.
“Get on,” he said. “I got a spare helmet in the back.”
“I’ve never ridden one of these before,” said Merlin walking down to join him.
“Don’t worry, all you got to do is hang on.”
Putting on the blue helmet, Merlin sat behind Arthur and held on when he rode down the road. He would never admit that he got a thrill from the ride and wouldn’t hesitant to do it again.
“Merlin’s getting to be a problem,” said Mordred after meeting Sophia in the quad.
“Your problem, not mine,” she said. “So, what are you going to do about it?”
“Not me, you.” Mordred turned to look at her. “You’re the one who’s going to get rid of Merlin for me, and remember, my problems are your problems. So Merlin is your problem.”
“I don’t like being told what to do, le Fey,” she said glaring at him defiantly. “This is your plan. I’m just doing my part.”
“And you’ll continue to do your part,” said Mordred, glaring at her angrily. She felt a shiver go down her spine form the intensity of it. “And you’ll continue to do your part, by getting rid of Merlin.”
“W-What do you want me to do?” she asked.
“Okay,” said Gwaine. “We have to think of another way to get Arthur and Merlin together.”
The group of friends were gathered at Gwaine’s and Percival’s house to plan the next stage to get Merlin and Arthur together. The football game was considered to be a mild success. Arthur had brought Merlin to the game, but the raven spent the entire time on the sidelines with Gwen cheering their friends on. The game was against a semi-friendly rival team and whenever one of their friends one of their friends scored a goal, both would break out We Will Rock You, which would put a smile on the teams’ faces.
The only downside to the game was when a rival player purposely kicked a ball into Gwaine’s head, who was goalie, yelling “Take this, faggot!” The usual passive Percival went berserk and it took all their friends and Gwaine to keep him from tearing the player’s head off. The captain of the rival team benched the player and Arthur bench Gwaine to recover and made Elyan goalie. With one less player on each team, both teams worked twice as hard to win the game.
Merlin and Gwen cheered when Arthur kicked the winning goal and both teams celebrated with a drink at Albion Bar. Kilgharrah gave them a round on the house as Merlin, Will and Gwen sung on stage.
The only improvement was that through the performance, Arthur kept his eyes on Merlin but so far both stayed on amicable terms.
“I didn’t think it was so bad,” said Leon.
“We need something better,” said Gwaine. “We need to do something that would get them alone together.”
“Then stuff them in a closet,” said Lancelot.
“How about something that isn’t extreme,” said Percival.
“Something like an amusement park?”
All men turned to the new voice and saw Morgana standing in the door way, leaning casually against the frame. She smirked at them in amusement as their stared at her in surprise.
“Really, did you think you could set my brother up with his one true love and I wouldn’t find out?” she said. She looked accusingly at her boyfriend. “Really, Leon?”
“How did you…?” asked Leon.
“Please, who do you think did Merlin’s hair the night of the banquet?” she said. “Who do you think helped Arthur pick out his outfit when he was freaking out over what to wear? I knew from the start.”
“Why didn’t you say anything,” asked Leon wrapping an arm around his girlfriend.
“And miss you lot stumbling around each other?” she asked smirking. “Not in my life.”
“What’s this about an amusement park?” asked Lancelot.
“A fair is set up outside of the city for the weekend,” said Morgana. “Games, rides, jugglers, the works. We take Arthur and Merlin there, and separate so they can spend time alone together.”
“Do you think that’ll work,” asked Elyan.
“Better than your matchmaker plans. Really? A football game? It’s a step for them to get close, but if you’re trying to get them together than you need to up your game.”
“Well, then,” said Percival, “where do we start?”
“You want me to what?” asked Arthur.
“Pick up Merlin,” said Gwaine.
“There’s an amusement fair for the weekend. We’re going to it.”
“An amusement fair?” asked Arthur with a laugh. “What are we, five?”
“It’ll be fun!”
Arthur groaned and grabbed his car keys, cell phone and wallet.
“Fine, what’s his address?”
Gwaine gave him and address and Arthur wrote it down to program into his GPS. Walking through the house he headed toward the front door.
“Where are you going?”
Arthur turned to find his father walking out of a drawing room and glaring at him.
“Just going out with friends,” said Arthur.
“I don’t like those ‘friends’ of yours, especially those queers. You shouldn’t be associating with them.”
Arthur forced himself not to which when his father said the word ‘queer’. He wished more than anything he could tell his father that he was guy as well but knew the end result of that conversation.
“They’re my friends, dad. Who they love doesn’t matter to me.”
Opening the door, he walked out and headed toward his car, ignoring his father’s shouts along the way. Programing Merlin’s address into his GPS, he backed out of the drive and headed down the road.
The buildings passed Arthur by. Rich houses passed to middle class to rundown. Some looked like a person fixed it up, but some looked so rundown they barely looked livable. Arthur looked at the houses in surprise as he neared Merlin’s house. Merlin lived here? He had heard from Gwaine that Merlin was low on money, but he didn’t think it was this bad.
He came to a semi-respectable house with few pots of flowers growing on the porch. The house was painted a pale yellow and the porch an antique white. Pulling to the curb, he parked and stopped the car. Walking up to the house he knocked on the door. It was opened by a motherly woman with dark hair and eyes. Her face was slightly pale and Arthur wondered if she was ill.
“Hello?” she said. “Can I help you?”
“Hi, Mrs. Emrys,” said Arthur politely. “I’m Arthur. I came to pick up Merlin.”
Hunith smiled at him invitingly. Arthur was reminded of Wizard’s words on hoe mothers were like sunshine, and Hunith certainly showed it.
“Of course, dear,” she said. “He said he was going out today. Please come in. Merlin’s up is his room.”
“Thank you.” Arthur walked in and looked at Hunith curiously. “I’m sorry for speaking like this, but Merlin doesn’t look a thing like you.”
“Yes, I’m afraid Merlin got his father’s looks,” she said. “Talent as well.”
Arthur looked around the house curiously. It was a modest house, but homely. There was a large bookcase against one wall filled with books. Each were well worn and showed signs of being read multiple times.
“It seems he’s got something from you,” he said.
“Yes, both of us love books. Sometimes we can’t read them fast enough. I was a literature teacher before…”
“Before what?” asked Arthur after a small pause. Hunith just shook her head and laughed.
“Oh, it’s nothing. All in the past now.”
Sensing that he was coming upon murky waters, Arthur decided to change the course of the conversation.
“How did you meet Merlin’s father?”
Hunith walked over to a picture of a young man placed on the bookshelf. He looked like an older version of Merlin.
“Balinor was a guitarist from a small band,” said Hunith. “I was just a girl in the crowd, but for some reason Balinor paid attention to me. We dated for a year and then we got married. He had to quit to support the both of us and worked in construction. A scaffolding broke and he fell five stories. He didn’t make it to when the ambulance arrived. A month later, I found out I was pregnant with Merlin.”
“That’s awful,” said Arthur. “I know how it feels to be raised by a single parent. My mother died giving birth to me. I never knew her.”
Hunith put a hand on his arm comfortingly.
“I’m so sorry, dear,” she said.
“Thank you, ma’am,” said Arthur with a smile. “I’ll just go get Merlin now.”
“Of course, dear. Just follow the music.”
Arthur smiled a polite farewell to her and walked up to Merlin’s room. As soon as he reached the top of the stairs, he figured out what Hunith had meant. Music came from a room in bits and pieces. The door was slightly open and he heard Merlin’s soft voice come through.
A cord slipped and Merlin hissed in annoyance.
“Damn it,” he said.
“Merlin?” called Arthur through the door. Merlin looked up to see Arthur looking through his door way.
“Oh, hi, Arthur,” he said setting his guitar on a stand. “Gwaine said he was sending someone to pick me up.”
“And that would be me,” said Arthur as Merlin stood and grabbed his phone and wallet. “Let’s go.”
Arthur followed Merlin downstairs and watched as Merlin said goodbye to his mother.
“Bye, mum,” he said kissing her on the cheek.
“Have fun, love,” said Hunith. She looked over Merlin’s shoulder toward Arthur and smiled. “He’s handsome.”
“Mum,” said Merlin in embarrassment.
Arthur smiled at the exchange. He knew through Gwaine that Hunith had accepted Merlin’s sexuality. He was glad that some parents were so understanding and gladly accepted their children for who they were.
“Okay,” said Merlin pulling away, still embarrassed. “Let’s go.”
They walked out of the house toward Arthur’s Mercedes. They got in and Arthur started the car. They drove in silence for several minutes before Arthur spoke again.
“That was good,” he said. “That song you were writing.”
“It’s crap,” said Merlin.
“No, it’s not.” Arthur couldn’t believe Merlin was shooting down his own work. “It sounded good, before the hiccup.”
“Thanks,” said Merlin, still a little in disbelief. “It’s just a jumble of words right now. I don’t have a real motion.” He sighs. “It needs a clicker.”
“Clicker?” he asked.
“It’s what I call the line or verse that catches the listener. I don’t have one yet.”
“Well, what have you got so far?”
“Total? One line.”
Arthur looked at Merlin in surprise.
“Really? One line?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Merlin with an embarrassed laugh.
“Let me hear it.”
Merlin was even more surprised.
“Now?” he asked.
“No time like the present.”
“Fine, but don’t laugh.”
“I swear, I won’t laugh.”
Merlin looked skeptical, but took a deep breath and sung.
“You wanna give up cause it’s dark/We're really not that far apart”
Arthur listened in amazement. He knew Merlin was a good singer, but next to him without instrument, it was magical.
Merlin saw the look on Arthur’s face and groaned.
“It’s bad. I knew it,” he said.
“No, Merlin, it’s good. Even with a little you can do a lot.” Merlin still looked skeptical. “My grandmother used to tell me something my mum said before she died. She said that the heart was like a compass. If you ever feel lost, it would lead you the way home.”
“That’s sweet,” he said.
Arthur felt his heart skip a beat at the sight of Merlin’s smile and turned back to the road.
“Thanks,” he said.
They drove for several more minutes talking about anything that came to mind. It wasn’t long until they came to the amusement park and met the other by the gates.
“Hey, guys,” said Gwaine waving them over.
“What should we do first?” asked Merlin.
“Rides!” said Morgana excitedly and pulled Leon after her toward the rides.
An hour later they rode the Plunge and Morgana even dragged them through a haunted house. Soon they were waiting in line for the Twister. Merlin took one look at all the twists and turns and he felt his stomach get nauseous.
“Merlin, are you okay,” asked Arthur, noticing the other man’s queasy look.
“Yes, I-I’m fine,” he said, a little too quickly in his ears.
“Merlin doesn’t like roller-coasters,” said Gwen. “They make him throw up.”
“Gwen!” said Merlin in shock and embarrassment.
“Oh, Merlin, I didn’t know,” said Morgana. “We can find another ride if you…”
“No, it’s all right,” said Merlin. He pointed to a nearby bench. “I’ll just wait over there.”
He walked over and sat down. A few seconds later, Arthur joined him. Merlin looked at him in surprise.
“Arthur, what about the ride?” he asked. Arthur shrugged.
“I don’t like roller-coasters much either. How about we check out some of the games?”
“I did warn you about my hand/eye coordination.”
“We’ll find you something.”
Arthur held his hand out to Merlin to help him up. Merlin looked in surprise at the hand and then at the man the hand was connected to. Not since the banquet had Merlin held Arthur’s hand. Hesitantly, Merlin slipped his hand into Arthur’s and let the blonde help him up.
They walked through the park, looking for games that looked interesting. Arthur tried the ring toss and popping balloons and won a couple small gifts for the girls. They started talking again and somehow the subject of Merlin’s interview came up. When he spoke of the money Helen offered, Arthur looked at him in surprise.
“Why didn’t you take the offer?” he asked.
“Well, it’s a big decision,” said Merlin. “I can’t just jump into it. What if it becomes the worst mistake of my life?”
“I know Helen Mora,” said Arthur. “She’s a fair person. She doesn’t believe in swindling a person.”
“I still need to think it over a bit more.”
Arthur looked at him understandingly and they continued to walk some more. Soon they came to the game where they knocked the bottles down and Arthur paid for a round. He handed one to Merlin.
“Oh, no,” said Merlin. “I’m more likely to hit the guy than the pins.”
“I’ll help you.” He handed Merlin the ball and showed him how to hold it. Merlin felt his heart beat faster in his chest and wouldn’t be surprised if his cheeks were tomato red. “It’s all in the wrist. Snap it as you let go of the ball.”
“Okay,” said Merlin softly turning to the game.
With Arthur’s help, Merlin threw the ball, but it veered off to the left. Taking the second ball, he hit the base and knocked the table down. Unfortunately it didn’t count so Merlin tried again with the last ball. Taking a deep breathe, he aimed and threw the ball at the next stand. The ball connected with the bottom left pin, knocking it down, and the top pin fell on the bottom right and all three fell down.
“Oh my God,” said Merlin.
Arthur picked him up and twirled him around.
“Merlin, you did it!” he said.
Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur on instinct and laughed. Arthur let him down and they both looked at each other. Merlin felt like his heart was beating out of his chest. Arthur started to lean toward him and his heart beat faster.
The sound of someone clearing their throat made them jump apart and they turned to see the man holding a dragon plushy.
“Your prize,” he said.
“Thanks,” said Merlin taking the plushy, embarrassed.
They walked back toward the rides to meet up with their friends. Merlin could still remember the look in Arthur’s eyes as Arthur held him.
Merlin groaned and attempted to ignore the annoying voice in his ear. He put the trays on the trolley to take up to a room. He picked up the bucket of ice and wine and set it on the trolley. He steered the trolley to the door, only to have a body block his way. He glared at it.
“Move, Mordred,” he said.
“Why do you have to be so mean, Merlin?” asked Mordred leaning against the door. “I’m just saying hello. The least you could do is acknowledge it.”
“Okay. Good-bye.” He attempted to push the trolley past the man, but Mordred still wouldn’t budge. “Mordred, move.”
“I just want to talk,” asked Mordred, sneeringly.
“And I want to earn a paycheck,” said Merlin.
“Why do you have to be so rude? I’m actually in a good mood.”
Merlin could see that, and it crept him out. Mordred had been in an unusually bright mood for a week. He annoyed Merlin less, but still gave him a look that made Merlin feel like a horse up for auction. The change in attitude with the other dark haired man made Merlin even more cautious.
“I’m glad that you’re in a good day, Mordred, but I have to get this tray upstairs before it gets cold,” said Merlin.
“Mordred, move your behind out of Merlin’s way or I’ll make you,” said May, the head cook, waving her spoon in his direction. Merlin knew that Mordred had more than a few whacks with him due to his antics and the dark haired man wasn’t too keen on repeats.
“Yes, May,” said Mordred and moved out of Merlin’s way. Merlin pushed the trolley through the doorway, and past Mordred’s sneering gaze. He tried to shake it off, but for some reason it stayed with him.
Pushing the trolley to the service elevator, he pressed the button for the floor he needed to go to. Unlike the guest elevators, the service elevators didn’t have soft lounge music to distract the distance between floors so Merlin had to listening to the silence of the lift as it went up. Finally he came to his floor and knocked on the room door.
“Who is it,” called a man’s voice.
“Room service,” said Merlin. The door opened and a man in his late forties opened the door. “Here you go, senator.”
“Thank you, my boy,” said the senator. “Wait there and I’ll get you a tip.”
The senator moved to grab his wallet from his jacket on the coat rack and Merlin caught sight of Sophia sitting on the bed wearing nothing but a t-shirt two sizes too big for her. She turned to the door to glare at him in warning before the senator blocked Merlin’s view again.
“Here you are,” said the senator handing him a ten.
“Thank you, senator,” said Merlin, slipping the bill in his pocket and walked down the hall. “Now I need to burn my eyes out.”
He hurried to the service elevator and took the ride back down to the kitchen, trying to bleach his mind of the image he had seen. He hurried to think of something to think of anything other than Sophia in a one piece. George Clooney? No, too old. Robert Patterson. Hated the Twilight series. Hugh Jackman, first X-Men movie. Shirtless. Yeah, that’ll do it.
f the morning was luckily uneventful, and since it was Saturday, he could look forward to playing at his uncle’s bar.
It was nearing afternoon when Alan came up to him with a scared expression. Merlin looked at him curiously as he loaded a trolley of food.
“Merlin, Mr. Pendragon wants to talk to you,” he said.
“What for?” asked Merlin.
“He didn’t say. Better hurry. He didn’t look happy.”
“He never is,” said Merlin turning to May. “Can you get Marvin to take this?”
“Of course, Merlin,” she said. “Be good.”
“I always am,” he said smiling at her reassuringly, but inside he was shaking with fear. Everyone at Camelot knew that a summons to Uther’s office was never a good thing.
Walking to the elevators, he pressed for the top floor and waited as it went up thirty stories to the office area. When the doors opened, Uther’s secretary looked up and gave him a grim expression as he approached.
“He’s waiting for you,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said.
Walking up to the door, he lightly knocked on the door politely.
“Enter,” came Uther’s voice on the other side.
Merlin walked nervously into the office. Behind a red oak desk sat Merlin’s boss, Uther Pendragon. Arthur’s father. Merlin knew he should be scared of the man but for some reason, Merlin never was. He barely saw the man outside of functions he holds at his hotel and even then he completely ignored the staff and instead made conversations with the guests. The only thing he was really scared of when it came to Uther was Uther firing him.
He looked in surprise when he saw Sophia sitting in one of the posh chairs. She looked back at Merlin with a sneer before turning to Uther with a devastated look. Uther barely looked at her and instead kept his eyes trained on Merlin.
“You wanted to see me, sir,” said Merlin unsure on how he should feel on Sophie in the same room with Uther.
“I just got some very disturbing news from Ms. Cooper,” said Uther. “She said you sexually harassed her.”
Merlin looked at Uther and then at Sophia in shock. The little bitch. This was how she was going to get back at him for refusing to cheat for Arthur. To get him fired! Well, he wasn’t going down without a fight.
“It’s a lie, sir,” he said. “I would never touch her, even if I wanted to.”
“Mr. Pendragon, he just insulted me!”
“Please, you find insult in a hangnail,” he said. Sophia gaped at him.
“That’s enough, Mr. Emrys,” said Uther in a snapping tone. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I didn’t do it,” said Merlin. “I never touched her.”
“Liar,” said Sophia. She almost sounded convincing to Merlin if he didn’t know he was telling the truth.
“Mr. Pendragon, I would never touch a woman like that.”
“Yes, because you’re such a good boy,” she said in a lofty tone.
“No,” said Merlin looking pointing at her. “Because I’m gay.”
That took them both aback. Obviously Uther had no idea that Merlin was gay. Through Merlin was proud of his sexual preferences, he didn’t advertise it everywhere he went. Most of the co-workers already knew that Merlin was gay and so did a few of the students at the school, but he had only spoken to Uther twice and each time was at a business function at the hotel. It was cheaper to use your own staff than to hire waiters or chefs from outside businesses.
Uther glared at Merlin.
“Merlin, I’m afraid you’re fired,” he said. Merlin looked at him in shock.
“What? But I never even touched her,” he yelled.
“I’m afraid I have no choice. You’ll clean out your locker and leave the hotel at once.”
“But, Mr. Pendragon, I need this job.”
“You should have thought about that before you started harassing the guests. Now leave.”
Merlin was at a loss on what to do. He knew that the real reason he was fired was because he was gay and somehow Sophia knew and knew about Uther’s hatred of homosexuals. With a nod he walked out and left the office, but he waited at the elevator for Sophia to arrive twenty minutes later, suspiciously smelling of strong flowery perfume and Uther’s Old Spice.
“Nice play, that,” he said. “Get me out of the way so you can get back with Arthur, and all the while cozying up with Uther.”
“I don’t have to explain myself to a disgusting faggot like you,” she said.
“Yeah? Well, this disgusting faggot knows all your secrets. You didn’t think we don’t know who you invite into the room you rent once a week every Saturday, or the personal video you accidently left in the room two months ago with a guy who was not Arthur, or that you got Mordred as your little boy-toy, or are you his little slut?”
Sophia’s face turned red, in either anger or ashamed Merlin couldn’t tell.
“Hotel staff knows a lot of secrets about their guests,” said Merlin looking at Sophia straight in the eye. “And it’s their job to keep the secrets of the guests, but I’m not a member of staff anymore, Sophia, and I know all your dirty little secrets.”
“What do you want?” asked Sophia. This queer was going to ruin all her plans! She did not spend all those months playing up to Arthur and Uther to ruin everything now.
“I want you to stay away from Arthur,” said Merlin. “If not, some of your secrets will leak out to the media. The Pendragons are well known people in the business world. Their faces have been on the news, including yours. What will they say when they find out that Arthur’s ex-girlfriend has been sleeping around with several men and his father on the side while they were dating?”
“You wouldn’t dare!” said Sophia furiously.
“Would I? Test me and see.” He gives her a smile. “Have a nice day and please come again.”
The elevator doors dinged opened and Merlin walked in. Sophia was too much in shock to follow.
Arthur had just stepped into the lobby of Camelot when he saw Merlin walk out of the employee’s door, a bag over his shoulder and a furious look on his face. Pushing through the crowd, he hurried to the other man before he lost sight of him.
“Merlin, what happened?” he asked. “Why are you leaving early?”
“I got fired,” he said angrily, looking away from Arthur, who was looking at him in shock.
“Apparently, not only because I sexually harassed Sophia, but also because I denied it by stating I’m gay, though I think he fired be because of that too,” he said.
“But you are gay,” said Arthur.
“Tell Uther that.”
“Why did Sophia say you harassed her to get you fired?” asked Arthur, trying to find out the story. Merlin looked away, reluctant to answer. “Please, Merlin.”
“I think it’s so that she can get back with you,” said Merlin. “You’ve been spending time with me and I guess she didn’t like me getting in between her and the Pendragon fortune.”
This infuriated Arthur. Every person in his life was trying to control him. His father, Sophia; He was tired and infuriated by it. The only person who hasn’t attempted to control him was Merlin.
“Who I spend time with is no business of hers or my father's,” he said. “He shouldn’t even have fired you because you’re gay. It’s against the workers union.”
“That’s why it’s going down as sexual harassment instead,” said Merlin angrily. “I hate bigots like him. They think that because their “normal” it means they get to say and do whatever they what. Who says they’re normal? What if “normal” was to walk around with a stork on your head? Then everyone would be doing it.”
“Merlin!” said Arthur laughing. He couldn’t believe Merlin had just said that. Merlin smiled but held back from laughing to continue talking.
“We can’t change who we are. It’s as normal to us as breathing. I’m proud to be myself and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Really?” asked Arthur. “You really wouldn’t change who you are?”
“Of course not. I am who I am. I’m not going to change myself to please anybody. If they don’t love me for who I am, then they’re not important to me.” Realizing what he said, he turned to Arthur apologetically. “God, Arthur, I’m sorry. I should have…”
Arthur shook his head.
“No, you’re right. I’m hiding myself. My father is who he is, and if he can’t love me for who I am, then screw him. Morgana wanted to take over the business anyway. I just want to write.”
With that in mind, he went over to the elevators.
“Wait, Arthur, what are you going to do?” asked Merlin, worried. Arthur turned back to him with a smile.
“Talk to my father,” he said.
The door closed before Merlin could protest. The ride seemed long, but Arthur was finally driven to stand up to his father. For years, Arthur wanted to come out on his sexuality, but knew it would disappoint his father and like any little boy, he wanted to please his father by being the perfect son. Arthur was a man now. He was tired of hiding, dodging photographers every time he went out with a man. He wanted to be himself and if Uther didn’t want anything to do with the real Arthur, then Arthur would leave. He was done pretending.
The doors opened and Arthur walked in. Uther’s secretary looked up at him in surprise.
“Arthur, this is a surprise,” she said.
“Hello, Amy,” he said. “I’ll see my father.”
Amy made a sound of protest as Arthur opened the doors.
And revealed Sophia sitting on Uther’s desk, topless, kissing Uther. Arthur didn’t need to guess why their hips were moving. Both immediately stopped when Arthur walked in.
“Arthur!” yelled Uther at the sight of his son. Sophia immediately covered her chest and turned to look at him over her shoulder. “Amy, I said no visitors!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Pendragon. He walked in,” said Amy, looking anywhere but at her boss and the stripped girl.
“Leave!” he roared at Amy before turning to Arthur. “Son, I can explain…”
“Save it,” said Arthur. “I knew since high school you were sleeping around and I knew since before college that it was Sophia. Did you think I was going to touch the same person you have, who’s also a slut? It’s disgusting.”
“Why are you here,” asked Uther as he straightened his shirt and as Sophia but her blouse on.
“I heard you fired Merlin,” said Arthur. “You know it’s illegal to fire someone because of their sexual preferences.”
“Doesn’t matter the reason,” said Uther. “The file will say that he sexually harassed someone, and with the connections I have he won’t be able to work anywhere in this city again.”
If Arthur had a mirror, he would see how red his face was from anger.
“That’s lying,” he said.
“He’s a faggot, Arthur,” said Uther. “People like him shouldn’t be around respectable people. They should be thrown out and left to rot in the streets where they belong.”
“And if one of those respectable people was a faggot?” asked Arthur.
“Then he should be thrown out. People like that are diseased, Arthur. They should be kept away from God fearing people that do good work.”
“Nice to know where you stand, Dad,” he said. “Guess I should start packing.”
Arthur turned to leave as Uther looked at him in shock.
“What?! Arthur, what the hell’s gotten into you?” he said.
“You want it in plain English? I’m gay, Dad. I love cock! Bump swords and all that jazz.”
Uther’s face went from shock, to furious.
“That’s not funny, Arthur,” he said.
“I’m dead serious, Dad, and before you blame Gwaine or Percival or Merlin, I knew I was gay since I was fifteen. I just never said anything because of you.”
“Stop this nonsense right now,” said Uther. “I won’t accept this…”
“Oh, so you can accept fucking a seventeen year old girl but you can’t accept you son’s a faggot? Awesome logic there, Dad.” He turned back to the door. “I’ll leave my key at the house.”
“Arthur, if you don’t stop this foolishness, you won’t get a cent of your inheritance!”
Arthur turned back around.
“Good!” he said. “I don’t want it. I want to make my own money, in my own way. I’m dropping my Business major. I’m going to become a writer. That’s what I want to do.”
He turned and walked out. He rode the elevator backed own to the lobby and was pleased to find Merlin still waiting for him.
“What did you do?” asked Merlin, worried.
“I told my father I was gay, after I found him screwing Sophia.”
Merlin made a face of disgust.
“Ew! Bad mental image! I need bleach or something to get it out of my head!”
“Robert Downing Junior in Sherlock Holmes,” said Arthur, throwing in the first thing that helped him in his father’s office.
“Loved him in that,” said Merlin in relief before turning to Arthur. “Now what will you do?”
“I have enough money in my mother’s trust fund to last me a while. I used it to pay for my apartment and my literature classes. Even if my father pulled me out of my business classes, I can still go to school, and do what I want.”
Merlin smiled at him.
“I’m proud of you, Arthur. I’m sorry about your father, though.”
“I’m not. I knew for years he didn’t really love me. He needed an heir to the family business, and Morgana being illegitimate was out of the question in his book. So he knocked Mom up and had me. No love lost.” He smiles at Merlin and put an arm around the other man’s shoulders. “So, how about we call up the gang and celebrate?”
Merlin laughs. He knows Arthur’s only covering up the hurt of losing his father, so he couldn’t exactly say no to the suffering man.
“Okay,” he said.
I goofed up and released a chapter early. :P Sorry for everyone out there, but I hope you like this one as much as you like the others
“You lie! How dare you say something like that!” said Arthur angrily.
“It’s the truth! It’s not my fault you can’t handle it!” said Merlin, also angrily.
The rest of the gang groaned. The two had been arguing for a half hour on the same topic. It was now two o’clock in the morning. Arthur was on his third beer while Merlin was still on his first. Gwaine learned a while ago to not let Merlin have more than one bottle. He would act like the biggest party animal and one time, Gwaine found him stripping right on the bar. It was good blackmail material, but Percival would kill him if he used anything against Merlin. They learned to never let Merlin have more than one bottle. Merlin was the epitome of a lightweight.
Arthur, on the other hand, was what Gwaine called a high-functioning alcoholic. Meaning that no matter how much Arthur drank, he would remember everything the next morning, with one hell of a hangover.
“What are they arguing about again,” asked Leon, trying to watch the late night movie on the television. Morgana had her head on his shoulder, out like a light and seeming oblivious of the argument just ten feet from her.
“Hell if I know,” said Lancelot. “I tuned them out.”
“How the hell did you manage that,” asked Elyan. “They’re yelling so loud they could wake the dead?”
Morgana gave a light, girly snore and nuzzled against Leon’s chest.
“Obviously not loud enough,” said Gwaine.
“He is way cool,” said Arthur. “Yours is a dog.”
“He’s not a dog, he’s hilarious. Yours is suicidal.”
“Gwen, who’s better? Kiba or Sasuke?” asked Merlin.
“Oh my God,” said Gwen, exasperated. “Give it up already! They’re both awesome.”
“That’s what they were arguing about?” asked Elyan in shock. “Cartoon characters?”
“Anime!” said both Merlin and Arthur.
The discussion turned argument began at ten when Merlin walked into Arthur’s lavish apartment for the first time and saw the other man’s extensive Japanese animation collection. First it had been an animated discussion on the animes each knew and what occurred in the series, then it became on argument to which anime was the best and to which character was better in which series. Now, hours later, they still haven’t gotten to agree on anything.
“Lord, give me strength,” said Gwaine as they started arguing again without pausing for an answer from Gwen.
“I’m gone,” said Will. “I got class and work tomorrow.”
“Me too,” said Gwen standing to join her friends. “What about you guys?”
“We’re off, too,” said Percival. “It looks like those two will be at it for a while.”
“Should we be worried,” asked Elyan looking back at the arguing men.
“Nah,” said Gwaine. “This will give them an opportunity to bond.”
“Both are more stubborn than mules,” said Morgana. “But if they hit a rock hard enough, eventually they’ll know when to yield.”
“How long have you been awake?” asked Leon in surprise at his girlfriend.
“Between Kiba’s 'hotness’ and Sasuke’s ‘coolness’,” she said. “Let’s go. Eventually, they’ll tire of arguing and change topics or pass out or something.”
The rest of the group silently agreed and left as the two now argued which technique was better between two characters.
“Sasuke’s chidori is way better than Hiei’s Black Dragon,” said Merlin.
“Hiei’s Black Dragon is an ultimate technique,” said Arthur. “There is nothing better.”
Merlin opened his mouth to argue more when he noticed the lack of bodies in the room.
“Where did everyone go?” he asked.
“They probably left to get away from your annoying voice,” said Arthur walking to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
“I’m not annoying.” He followed Arthur and without asking, got himself a drink of water as well. “At least I’m not a clotpole.”
Arthur turned to him angrily. “What did you call me?”
Merlin smirked at him.
“A clotpole.” A sharp smack hit across the back of his head. “Hey!
“That’s what you get for being annoying,” said Arthur. “I suppose I should let you stay here tonight, but I only have the one bed.”
“I’m fine with the couch,” said Merlin.
Both returned to the couch in somewhat comfortable silence. After a few minutes, Arthur turned to Merlin.
“Why do you like books anyway, Merlin?” asked Arthur.
Merlin looked him in surprise.
“Why did you ask that out of the blue?” he asked.
Arthur looked down at the cup in his hand, fighting off his embarrassment.
“Well, when I was at your house and saw all of your mother’s books, I saw how well read they were. You must have read them till you memorized every line.”
Merlin laughed, embarrassed and nervous at the same time.
“Yeah, I have,” he said.
“You’re a Music and Literature major. I get wanting a career in one, but why not the other? Don’t you want both?”
“I do,” said Merlin defensively. “It’s just, it’s my dad. He never got to make his dream come true, and I do want to write music. I really do. Writing music, it connects me to my dad as much as books connect me to my mom. I want to feel closer to him.”
Arthur looked at him in amazement. The words were different, but it was similar to what he had said to Wizard at the banquet almost a month ago about him mother. How was it that two people could connect with him to deeply?
“My first real memory was of my mum reading me The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Since then I’ve been complete in love with the written word.”
Arthur gave him an amused look.
“Sherlock Holmes, huh? Ever been to his home?”
“221B Baker Street? No, wish though.”
Arthur looked at him shock. “You mean you live in London but you’ve never been to Baker Street?”
Merlin gave him an inquiring look.
Arthur blushed and looked away.
“No,” he said.
“Don’t be surprised. Most New Yorkers have never been to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. Just because you live there doesn’t mean you’ve seen everything.”
“Can’t argue with that logic,” he said. “So, Merlin, do you have a boyfriend?”
Merlin laughed, remembering a similar discussion between them.
“What is this, Twenty Questions?” he asked.
Arthur shrugged nonchalantly.
“Just want to get to know you better,” he said. “You hardly talk about your romantic life.”
“Because I don’t have one,” he said.
“No one? Not even interested?” Merlin’s cheeks tinged red and he turned away. Arthur laughed again. “There is someone! Who, Merlin? Tell me who!”
Merlin shook his head.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “He’s too good for me. It would never work out.”
“How do you know?” asked Arthur. “You’re an amazing guy, Merlin. Any guy would be lucky to have you.”
“How can you say that? I’m nothing special. I’m not handsome, rich or popular. All I have are my books and music. You shouldn’t waste your time on me.”
Arthur looked at him in shock.
“You don’t see it, do you, Merlin?” he asked.
“See what?” asked Merlin looking at him, still skeptical.
“As corny as it sounds, there’s something magical about you.”
Before Merlin could say anything, Arthur leaned down and pressed his lips against Merlin’s. Merlin gasped in shock and Arthur advantage of it and slipped his tongue into Merlin’s mouth. Arthur moaned at Merlin’s sweet taste. There was the soda Merlin switched to after his first and only beer, chips, popcorn and something distinctly Merlin.
Merlin moaned against Arthur’s mouth. Arthur tasted like the beers he had and the snacks Arthur had laid out. Underneath it all was a taste that was only Arthur’s. For weeks he wondered what Arthur was like as a kisser and all he could think was day-am, the man could kiss.
They kissed for several minutes before the need for air became relevant and they pulled apart, but Arthur rested his forehead on Merlin’s catching his breathe. He looked at Merlin’s flushed face and lust blown eyes and just knew without a doubt that after this, he wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off the man.
Then he remembered what Merlin said about liking someone else and pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Why?” asked Merlin.
“I shouldn’t. Your someone…”
“We’re not together,” said Merlin. “So I’m not cheating on him. Do you have someone?”
Mordred came to mind. Arthur didn’t know what it was, but there was something about the other man that got under his skin, and not in a good way. With Mordred everything felt forced, like stepping on uneven gravel. With Merlin, everything felt right.
“No,” he said.
Standing, he took Merlin’s hand and led him to the bedroom. The entire bed was done in red and gold bedspreads and somehow, Merlin thought that was so Arthur.
Arthur turned Merlin around started kissing him again as he slowly undressed him. Merlin did the same, slowly unbuttoning Arthur’s shirt. As he slid it from Arthur’s shoulders, he admired the perfectly sculpted chest and abs. Needing know what Arthur tasted like, Merlin lean forward and licked up Arthur’s collarbone to his jaw. Arthur moaned in pleasure.
Merlin smirked as he continued to lick down Arthur’s chest. He was suddenly addicted to Arthur’s taste. Reaching Arthur’s chest, he flicked his tongue over one dusty nipple and felt it harden under his touch.
“Merlin,” moaned Arthur, half in pleasure and half in protest.
“Yes, Arthur,” said Merlin touching the other nipple with his fingers.
“Clothes off. Bed now,” ordered Arthur.
Merlin laughed as he complied with Arthur’s request. Unbuckling his belt, he slid his pants and underwear to the floor as he toed off his shoes and pulled off his socks. He laughed harder as he watched Arthur hop out of his boxers and wound up tripping over them on the floor.
“Need any help there, old man,” he teased. Arthur sent him a soft glare.
“Shut up,” he said. “I’m not that drunk.”
“I didn’t say you were,” said Merlin sliding up on the bed with his legs wide open invitingly. “Well?”
If there was a record to how fast a person could take off their clothes, Arthur had beaten them all to get to the man on his bed. He went to his bed and pulled Merlin against him, pressing a bruising kiss onto him. He moaned when he felt Merlin’s hot rod press against his stomach and his fit snuggly between Merlin’s legs.
Merlin moaned into the kiss as Arthur pressed him against the bed and then start kissing down Merlin’s neck. He laughed when he felt Arthur fumble into his nightstand.
“Trouble?” he asked teasingly.
“Shut up, Merlin,” said Arthur taking out a condom and a tube of lube. “I won’t go easy.”
“And I’m not a virgin.”
Arthur smiled at that and knelt down between Merlin’s legs. Merlin looked at him in confusion for a moment before Arthur took him into his mouth.
Arthur laughed around Merlin’s cock, making Merlin curse more. Merlin wasn’t one to curse excessively, but at the moment he had the raven haired, blue eyed man cursing like a sailor. He used the distraction to lube up three of his fingers and push all three into Merlin’s hole, quickly prepping the other man. Merlin cried out at the intrusion, which quickly became a sound of pleasure when Arthur found the spot deep inside him.
“Damn it, Arthur! A little warning next time,” he said as Arthur pulled his fingers out. He vaguely heard the sounds of a condom opening.
Arthur laughed as he pulled off and moved up to look down at Merlin.
“I’m going to fuck you now,” he said.
The next thing Merlin knew, he was turned on his stomach with his cheeks apart before Arthur shoved his cock into Merlin. Merlin cried out against the intrusion but it quickly became a cry of pleasure when Arthur hit that spot again.
Arthur moaned at the feel of Merlin around him. It was the most incredible feeling he had ever had. There was no way to describe the volcanic heat around his dick.
“Tight,” he said as he moved against Merlin. Merlin chuckled under him.
“Been awhile.” He moaned. “You feel so good.”
“So do you. Hot. Not going to last.”
Merlin pushed against Arthur and Arthur moaned at the same time Merlin did.
“Then don’t,” said Merlin.
Arthur grinned against Merlin’s neck before pounding into Merlin like his life depended on it. Merlin responded to him like they were one person. He pushed against Arthur as Arthur pushed against him and bucked every time Arthur hit his prostrate. His cries rose higher and higher as he neared his climax. Arthur’s hand wrapped around his dick and he cried out as Arthur pumped him in time with Arthur’s thrusts.
“Arthur!” he cried as he came. He swore he saw stars.
Arthur groaned as he felt the warmth on his hand and came. He bit down on Merlin’s neck and felt Merlin come a second time before he passed out.
When he came to, he found himself on his bed with a smirking Merlin above him.
“Well, I can’t say that happened to me before,” he said.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You passed out,” he said. “I’m good, but I didn’t know I was that good.”
“A minute. I pulled you onto the bed so you’d be comfortable.”
Arthur made a sound of contentment as he turned to Merlin and spooned him against his side. He pressed his nose into Merlin’s hair and breathed in sniffed the herbal scent of Merlin’s shampoo.
“Stay?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Merlin, answering in more ways than one as he drifted off to sleep.
Mordred knock on the door and smiled when it opened.
“Hi, I’m Tom,” he said. “I go to one of the classes with Merlin. He borrowed a text book from me and forgot to bring it. He said I could come here and get it.”
Hunith looked at him in surprise.
“That doesn’t sound like Merlin,” she said. “Come in. His room is right upstairs. Would you like anything?”
“No thank you, ma’am. I’m real busy today.”
“Of course,” said Hunith and let Mordred in. he smirked as he couldn’t believe how easy it had been to gain entry into Merlin’s house. His mother really was an idiot.
Walking up to Merlin’s room, Mordred noticed how music oriented the room was. There was an acoustic guitar and electronic keyboard in the corner near the desk with a music stand and music sheets. He walked over to the computer and opened it. Immediately, a password screen came up. Mordred paused for a second.
“Now what would your password be, Merlin,” he said aloud.
He started typing.
Mordred frowned. Figuring out a password shouldn’t be this hard. Especially with Merlin. The guy was a geek. A cute geek, but still…
He looked up at the Gandalf poster Merlin had put up on the wall above his desk. An idea came to him and he typed.
The screen began to start up and came to Merlin’s desk top. The wallpaper was of a black hair and red eyed boy wearing a white Japanese tunic and pants held closed by a large purple rope wrapped around his waist and welded a katana. There were various folders on the wallpaper and Mordred itched to read what was in all of them, but the one that he was interested in was titled ‘Merlin’s Music’.
Taking a jump drive from his pocket, copied all the music and pocketed the drive. Powering down the computer he stood and pulled a book from his book bag and plastered a smile on his face.
“I got my book, Mrs. Emrys,” he said holding it up.
“Oh good, dear,” she said smiling at him. “It was so nice of you to let Merlin borrow your book.”
“Merlin’s a great guy, Mrs. Emrys,” he said. “He says he gets it from you.”
Hunith giggled like a school girl and Mordred grinned. With final goodbyes, Mordred left.
Arthur sat in the café he was to meet Mordred at but secretly couldn’t wait till later in the evening when he and his friends go to a pub trivia with Merlin, Will and Gwen. Mostly, he couldn’t wait to see Merlin again, no matter the excuse.
The past weekend had been memorable. Merlin had stayed the night and half the day on Saturday until he had to return home to take care of his mother. Through the entire time, they spent most of it in bed and watched animated movies. Some of them Merlin had never seen before which please Arthur greatly. Arthur couldn’t remember when he had so much fun. They made plans for an anime marathon the next Friday before Merlin left.
Being with Merlin was different than being with Mordred. Merlin was easier to talk to and fun to be around while Mordred was a bit difficult and hard to read. The differences were obvious even a blind man could see them.
Arthur looks up from his book and smiles at the sight of Mordred. The smile instantly vanished at the distressed look on the other man’s face.
“Mordred, what happened?” he asked.
“I-I just came out of my Musical Composition class,” said Mordred in a choked voice. “We were supposed to write a song and present it to the class. Merlin went up before me and…”
He choked back a sob. Arthur gathered the man into his arms. Mordred had a problem with singing on stage, which he hoped to get over with his Musical Composition class. So far, Arthur had yet to hear him sing.
“He stole my song!” said Mordred. “Merlin stole my song! I don’t know how but he did.”
Arthur pulled back and looked at the man in shock. Merlin stole songs from Mordred? That didn’t sound like the man he knew. The one time he heard Merlin sing, the man had sung from his very soul that it pulled Arthur in even if the song was in bits and pieces. There was no way he could believe that Merlin stole songs.
“I-I can’t believe it,” he said. “Merlin would never do that.”
“He did, Arthur,” said Mordred. Arthur was surprised to see tears damping the man’s eyes. “He stole my song from me! And not just from me. He’s been stealing from other students too. Merlin can’t write a song to save his life.”
Arthur sat down on the bench he had occupied not long ago and let it all sink in. Merlin stole songs. Somehow, Arthur couldn’t imagine it, but Mordred looked too sincere to be lying.
“I-I can’t believe it,” he said raking his hair with his hand.
“I’m so sorry, Arthur,” said Mordred, sitting next to Arthur and put a comforting hand on Arthur’s back. “I know you like him, but I had to tell you. Listen, this was the song he stole. I recorded it.”
Mordred pulled out his phone and pulled out his video ap. Pressing the file he showed Arthur the almost clear video of Merlin singing in class.
“I'd love to know just what you're thinkin'/ Every little river, runnin' through your mind/ You give and you take/ You come and you go/ You leave me here wonderin' if I'll ever know/ How much you care or how much you don't/ Whatever you need, whatever you want
/If you're gonna be somebody's heartbreak/If you're gonna be somebody's mistake/ If you're gonna be somebody's first time,/ Somebody's last time, baby be mine/If you're lookin' to be somebody's 'just friends',/A little laughin', little lovin', never callin' again, that's just fine/If you're gonna be somebody's heartbreak/Be mine, yeah/Oh, be mine”
Arthur still couldn’t believe it. Dropping the phone he covered his face with his hands. Mordred rubbing his back comfortingly.
“I even have the lyrics,” said Mordred handing him the music sheet. They were in Mordred neat handwriting instead of Merlin’s messy scrawl, the top dated.
“I don’t understand,” he said looking at the sheets.
He missed the gleeful sneer on Mordred’s face.
“Merlin, we need to tell you something,” said Gwaine.
Merlin looked up from the textbook he was studying and smiled at his friend. Then he noticed Percival, Leon, Lancelot and Elyan walking up with him and he became worried.
The half weekend spent with Arthur had been the best he had in a long time. As soon as he got home he went up to his room, picked up his guitar and finished the song he wanted to present at the festival. With his newly established unemployment, he had no choice but to take up Helen Moira’s offer, but he would still like to use the festival to present his songs to singers, or agents to singers.
He hadn’t told Arthur about his identity of Wizard and he never planned on going to. If he could get Arthur to like his as Merlin than he’d be happier than anything in the world.
“Guys, what’s wrong?” he asked bookmarking his page and turning to his friend.
“We need to tell you something,” said Leon hesitantly. Merlin looked at them questioningly.
“Okay,” he said. “What did you want to tell me?”
“We know you’re Wizard,” said Lancelot. “We know that Arthur’s Excalibur and you two have been emailing and chatting with each other for half a year.”
Merlin’s face became bright red and he looked down. He had hoped his friends never found out that he and Arthur were talking with each other for half the school year. Between him and Arthur, they would pick Arthur every time.
“We also know that you’re in love with him,” said Percival. “And Arthur’s in love with you.”
“No,” said Merlin. “He’s in love with Wizard. He’s not real. He’s in love with a figment.”
“No,” said Leon. “He’s real. He’s you.”
“Is that why you guys wanted us to hang together?” asked Merlin. “You were trying to get us together?”
The four friends looked guilty and Merlin laughed.
“All of you don’t know how to play matchmaker,” he said. “Well, it won’t do you any good. Arthur’s made it clear that he wants nothing to do with me.”
“Arthur’s being tricked,” said Elyan. Merlin looked at him in shock.
“Tricked? By who?”
“Mordred,” said Percival. Merlin turned toward him confused. “Mordred has Arthur believing he’s you.”
“He somehow got a lot of personal information about Arthur,” said Lancelot. “And about you. He’s making Arthur believe he’s Wizard.”
“Why are you telling me? Why not tell Arthur?”
“We wanted him to get to know you by being with you,” said Gwaine. “We thought we could get him to fall in love with you again.”
“It’s been a month,” said Merlin. “A month since I met Arthur at the benefit and you kept it to yourself?! You should have told him! What kind of friends are you to keep something like that from Arthur? You should have told him.”
Merlin started packing up his books and notes and stuffed them in his rucksack.
“Merlin, what are you doing?” asked Elyan.
“What you guys are too chicken shite to do and tell Arthur the truth.” Merlin shouldered his rucksack and glared at the four friends. “It’ll be because of you if Arthur gets hurt.”
He ran across the quad toward the library. It was nearly time for his and Arthur’s tutoring session so he knew Arthur would be there. He recognized Arthur as soon as he ran up to the building.
“Arthur!” he yelled running up the stairs toward the man. “I need to tell you something.”
“That’s funny, Merlin,” said Arthur. “I want to talk to you too.”
“Listen, Arthur, about what happened…”
“I want to stop studying together.”
Merlin looked at him in surprise.
“Wh-What?” he said.
“I want us to stop studying together. I can’t study with someone who cheats.”
“Cheats?!” said Merlin in shock. “Who the hell says I cheat? I do the work. I…” It suddenly clicked. “Mordred. Did Mordred tell you?”
“Where I heard it doesn’t matter. We’re through.”
Arthur turned to leave but Merlin grabbed his arm.
“Arthur, stop. It’s about what I have to tell you. Mordred is…”
“No more lies,” said Arthur jerking his arm out of Merlin’s grip. “I don’t know how you got Gwaine and the others to trust you, but I’m through with your excuses. I want nothing more to do with you, so leave me alone.”
He shoved Merlin away so he could run back to his car. Merlin runs after him after a few seconds of recovery.
“Arthur, wait! Arthur!” he called after the man, but the blonde got into his car and drove off. Merlin watched anxiously. He had to tell Arthur the truth, even if Arthur didn’t believe him in the end. Taking out his phone, he dialed. He knew that Arthur had Bluetooth in his car and could answer the phone while driving but immediately the line went to decline. He tried again but this time the phone was off.
“Fine. If you don’t want to talk to me, then how about this.” Switching to text message, Merlin typed a couple lines and hit send. “Let’s see him ignore that.”
Pocketing his phone, he walked to the bus stop and got on the bus headed toward his house, still anxious that Arthur didn’t listen to him about Mordred. He didn’t know when it happened but somewhere between the emails, the get-togethers and the tutor sessions, Merlin had fallen hard for Arthur. He didn’t care if Arthur never felt the same, Merlin knew he had to warn him about Mordred.
He heard a woman scream before hearing the crunch of metal against metal and his vision went head over heels. He hit his head against the opposite seat and his brain went lights out.
Hours later, Arthur sat in a club with the TV silently showing the news. Not Albion. It was a club Arthur and his friends had frequented before Merlin, and right then Arthur wanted to forget everything to do with the young man. Forget the way his eyes light up when he speaks of books or sings. Forget the way he looks when he’s reading with his eyes slightly glazed and biting his lower lip. The way he looks when he argues or when he’s sleeping. Everything had been easier before Merlin and now Arthur didn’t know what to think.
“Another, and leave the bottle,” he said to the bartender. The bartender filled his glass with sparkling amber and Arthur swallowed it in one gulp.
“Arthur, there you are.”
Arthur turned to see Gwaine, Percival and Lancelot walk over to him. He groaned.
“Not now,” he said. “I’m not sufficiently drunk yet.”
“I take it you’ve talked to Merlin,” said Percival as all three took seats around him.
“Yeah, I spoke to Merlin,” he said pouring himself another shot and drank it.
“Arthur, we’re sorry,” said Gwaine. “We wanted to tell you sooner…”
“Then why didn’t you?” asked Arthur turning to him. “You knew all along and never told me? Some friends you are.”
“Funny, that’s what Merlin said,” said Lancelot.
“After everything that happened, after I poured my heart out to him, this is how he repays me? I bet he was after my money all along.”
“He probably was,” said Gwaine. “We’re just glad you learned the truth.”
“I never want to see that lying bastard again,” said Arthur. “I don’t care if you do, Gwaine, but I don’t want anything to do with him anymore.”
The three friends looked at each other in confusion.
“Arthur, why would I want anything to do with Mordred?” he asked.
This time it was Arthur who looked at them in confusion.
“Mordred? I was talking about Merlin. He lied to me. Used me.”
“He didn’t say everything, true, but he didn’t lie,” said Gwaine. “He…”
“Wait a minute, Arthur,” said Lancelot. “Why did you think we were talking Merlin? Mordred’s the one who’s been lying to you.”
“No, he wasn’t. He’s the only one who told me the truth.”
“What did he tell you?” asked Percival.
“Merlin stole music from him for their music assignment,” said Arthur. “He gave me proof.”
Arthur pulled out his phone and showed them the video he had sent himself from Mordred’s phone. He still couldn’t believe that Merlin stole and hoped he could figure out why through the video.
Gwaine watched video and exclaimed.
“I shot the vid three years ago,” he said.
“You did?” said Arthur.
“Yeah. Merlin was freaking out for auditioning for the spring concert and I shot the vid for him as a sort of ‘You did it!’ trophy thing. It was on his computer.”
“But, Mordred said…”
“Arthur, Mordred doesn’t go to college,” said Percival. “Merlin’s description of him was that he worked all day and fucked all night.”
“Amply given if you ask me with how many times he’s propositioned me,” said Lancelot.
Arthur couldn’t believe the new information he just heard. Mordred was the one who was lying? But what about all the evidence against Merlin?
“Mordred lied to you,” said Gwaine. “He’s been lying to you for a month. He’s not Wizard. Merlin is. That was why Merlin went to see you earlier. To tell you the truth.”
Arthur shook his head in disbelief.
“No,” he said.
“Has Merlin tried to contact you after you blew him off?” asked Percival.
“Yeah, but I turned my phone off after he tried calling me the first time.”
“Check your phone,” said Lancelot.
Arthur turned his phone back on and saw that he had several missed calls from his friends but he ignored those and looked for Merlin’s name among them. Not finding one after that first time, he looked through his text messages. Again there were several from his friends but he did find one from Merlin. He opened it.
Mothers are like sunshine. When they hug you, you feel all warm and safe and you know that you’re loved.
“Oh God,” said Arthur.
“What is it?” asked Gwaine.
“It was something Wizard said to me at the banquet,” said Arthur. “I never told Merlin anything about Wizard. How did he know unless…”
“I told you,” said Gwaine. “He is Wizard.”
“Why didn’t he say anything?”
“Uh, guys,” said Lancelot, interrupting before Gwaine could answer. “You might want to see this.”
He pointed up to the television and they saw what looked to be a wreck in the middle of an intersection. Police cars and ambulances were everywhere and the night flashed blue, red and white.
“Turn it up,” said Gwaine.
The bartender turned the volume up, but they still had trouble hearing over the noise of the crowd. They listened to the reporter.
“I am here at Westchester and Third where a horrible accident occurred,” she said. “The driver of a semi-trailer, who we now know is known for drinking while driving, barreled into public transportation bus 1717. So far, the have been two confirmed dead and another three injured, and they are still recovering bodies.”
“That’s Merlin’s bus,” said Lancelot in shock. “The one he takes home from campus.”
“It is unconfirmed where the driver of the semi was drinking or not yet, but…” There was a shout behind the reporter and she turned around to find out what was going on. She turned back to the camera. “Another body has been found. Kevin, close up.”
The camera zoomed closer as a pair of firefighters hauled out a body with dark hair wearing a very familiar outfit. At the sight of the red scarf, Arthur shot out of his seat.
“Merlin!” he yelled.
Gwaine must have broken every speed limit there was getting to the hospital as fast as he could, and Elyan in his pickup wasn’t far behind. It had taken several bribes and several threats of law suit to find out which hospital Merlin had been taken to. When they found out, Gwaine and Arthur went to his two-seater Porsche and the rest piled into Elyan pick up.
Through the whole ride, Arthur felt like a cold hand had taken hold of his heart and squeezed it. He knew that he cared about Merlin, but now he felt it deeper than that. He felt it when he thought Merlin had betrayed him, that crushing feeling that was like being caught under a rock slide. He felt it again when he saw Merlin being dragged out of the totaled bus.
He didn’t notice the tear until it fell on his hand.
“Arthur?’ asked Gwaine turning to look at him while they stopped at a stop light.
“This is my fault,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“If I just listened to him. If I hadn’t blown in his face…”
“Listen to me, Arthur. Mordred’s the one responsible. He used everything to get to you and push you away from Merlin to meet his own ends, whatever they are. He’s the only one responsible. Not you, not Merlin, him.”
Arthur nodded, his mind still on Merlin. The view from the television as hazy, and they had blurred out a lot of details, so he didn’t know what condition Merlin was in. Merlin couldn’t die from something like this. He had too much to live for. His music, Gwen and Will, his mother…
“Hunith,” he said in realization. “Someone has to call Hunith.”
“Lancelot’s on that,” said Gwaine. “And Percy’s calling Gwen and Will. All you need to worry about it getting there.”
Arthur nodded again. His mind was on auto pilot now. All he could think about was Merlin. Merlin’s laugh, his smile, his enthusiasm for books and music. All he could do was pray that Merlin doesn’t die.
Finally, after felt like hours of driving, Gwaine pulled into a parking spot near the emergency entrance. Gwaine dragged Arthur inside as the pickup pulled up next to it. They walked up to the receptionist at the desk.
“The bus crash victims, where are they?” asked Gwaine.
“All victims of the bus crash on in the OR,” said the nurse in a slightly bored tone. “Name and relation of victim?”
“The person’s name is Merlin Emrys and we’re friends of his,” said Gwaine.
The receptionist type on the computer and looked at the monitor.
“Merlin Emrys is still in surgery,” she said. “That’s all I can say if you’re not family. Does he have family?”
“His mother’s on her way,” said Elyan.
“I suggest you wait until the surgery’s over. It’ll take a while. The waiting room is that way.”
She pointed to a room and the group had no choice but to sit down and wait. The friends knew they had no other choice but to wait for Hunith to arrive so they would get information on Merlin. Arthur’s hangover started, and couple with his anxiety it gave him a massive headache. He feared more than anything of a doctor walking in and announcing that Merlin didn’t make it. The thought of it made him sick to his stomach.
Before he could say anything, he felt strong arms grab him and haul him off the seat and steered him toward another room. It only registered as a men’s room before he lost all the whiskey he consumed into the toilet bowl. He threw up until all he could taste was bile and his stomach cramped. When he finally finished, he saw that it had been Lancelot that held him as he puked and Percival was handing him a wet towel.
“Thanks,” he said, wiping his mouth.
“That’s what you get for drinking angry,” said Lancelot. “Come on.”
Lancelot helped him up and over to the sink, where Arthur washed his mouth out and washed his face and hands. Percival gave him a stick of gum, most likely a stash from Gwaine who had the biggest sweet tooth in the gang, and he went back to the waiting room. He sat down and put his head in his hands to cease his pounding headache and to keep his queasy stomach from not puking again.
The subtle aroma of coffee filled his nose and he looked up to see a paper cup full of the heavenly brown liquid and a hand hold two pills that looked like painkillers. He looked up to see Hunith standing over him with a sad smile.
“Hunith,” he said standing up. The tears that had threatened to fall for half an hour finally fell. “I am so sorry. It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t…”
“Oh, my dear boy,” said Hunith, setting the coffee and pills down and wrapping him in a hug. “Lancelot told me everything. I don’t blame you. I blame the man responsible for all the heartache you and my son are going through. He hurt you both so much. I’m just glad the truth is out.”
“Merlin will never forgive me,” said Arthur, burying his face into Hunith’s shoulder.
“Oh, Arthur.” Hunith pulled back and looked up at him straight in his eye. “If you believe that, then you don’t know Merlin.”
She hugged him again and Arthur let himself be wrapped up in the warmth and love of a mother’s embrace. Merlin was right. It was like sunshine.
They sat together and Arthur took the painkillers Hunith gave him and drank the coffee. He even ate a Danish Elyan gave him an hour later to fill his empty stomach. It was four hours later when a doctor finally walked up to them. Arthur had been half asleep on his chair, using his jacket as in improvised pillow. Gwaine had fallen asleep with his head on Percival’s lap while his boyfriend looked through something on his phone and Lancelot and Elyan were talking to Gwen and Will who had arrived with Hunith.
Hunith stood up quickly. Everyone stood with her.
“That’s us,” she said. “I’m his mother.”
“Mrs. Emrys, I’m Doctor Grey,” he said. “You’re son has severe injuries to almost every part of his body. A portion of the bus roof collapsed onto his back, bruising his spine. Both his legs and his right arm broke and I’m afraid his heart stopped twice on the table.”
Hunith gasped and Gwen hugged her close.
“We were able to revive him each time,” said Doctor Grey, “but the one we’re most worried about is the cranial trauma.”
“What cranial trauma,” asked Gwaine, worried.
“Merlin suffered a severe blow to the head when the truck crashed into the bus,” said Grey. ‘There is massive swelling to his brain and it put him into a coma. We don’t know when or if he’ll come out of it.”
“He will,” said Hunith confidently. “I know he will.”
“He will need intense around the clock care. That won’t come cheap.”
Hunith’s eyes teared up. She didn’t have the money to care for Merlin.
“I’ll pay.” Everyone turned to Arthur who had a sad but determined face. “Anything he needs, I’ll pay for. He gets the best care, understood.”
“Pendragon,” said Arthur. The doctor gave a start to the name. “Arthur Pendragon.”
“Of course, Mr. Pendragon. I’ll get started on the paper work. I will have some forms for you to sign.”
“Understood,” said Arthur.
“Arthur, you don’t have to…” started Hunith but Arthur shook his head.
“I want to. It’s the least I could do.”
“Can we see him?” asked Gwen.
“Family members only,” said Grey. “The next twenty-four to forty-eight hours are critical to recovery.”
“I want Arthur to see him first,” said Hunith.
“Hunith,” said Arthur.
He saw the look on Hunith’s face and knew he wouldn’t be able to fight her against it. He nodded.
“Right this way,” said Grey.
Arthur followed after Grey, walking through halls that smelled of bleach and antiseptic. He led Arthur to a door that looked like any other hospital door but Arthur’s heart quickened at the thought of the person behind it.
“Five minutes,” he said before opening the door.
The man on the bed almost looked nothing like the man he had seen hours ago. His arm was bandaged and one of his casted legs was propped up. Monitors were connected to his head and chest and a tube was inserted in his mouth. Arthur couldn’t believe this was the man that just a few days before, laughed and made love to him. How could Arthur have been so stupid?
“I’ll leave you alone,” said Grey.
“Thank you, doctor,” said Arthur. Grey nodded and left as Arthur walked in. he looked down at the man before him. “I am so sorry, Merlin. I should have listened. I should have…”
A sob choked in his throat. Taking Merlin’s uninjured hand, he lifted it to his lips and placed a kiss on it.
“Mordred will pay, Merlin. I swear.”
He spent the five minutes holding Merlin’s hand, taking as much of his friends presence into himself as he could before he was forced to leave.
“It’s time to go,” said Grey five minutes later.
“Get better, Merlin,” said Arthur.
Placing a kiss on Merlin’s forehead, he left.
Arthur sat in the diner that he had met Mordred the previous day. Despite the pleasant weather, the man’s mood was gloomy. Not even the pleasant atmosphere of the diner lifted his mood. He hardly slept the night before. Visions of Merlin before and after the accident plagued his mind. He doubted he was going to get a restful night’s sleep soon.
Arthur looked up at the waitress holding a pot of coffee.
“Yes, thank you,” he said.
She filled the cup and left as the door to the diner opened. Mordred looked around the diner before spotting Arthur. With a smile, he walked over and sat opposite the blonde.
“Arthur, what’s wrong?” he asked. “Why did you ask me to meet you?”
“Have you heard about Merlin?” asked Arthur.
“Yes, it’s awful, but they say karma’s a bitch. Maybe Merlin bit more than he could chew.”
“A man is fighting for his life, and you’re being blasé about it?” It took everything Arthur had not to lunge across the table and strangle the man in front of him.
“It’s what he deserved. I always knew he was trouble. He was probably just after your money.”
Arthur scoffed a laugh. “Funny. I could say the same about you.”
“What?” asked Mordred confused.
Arthur lifted a hand and snapped his fingers. Immediately, everyone left the diner.
“Arthur, w-what’s going on?” he asked.
“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” asked Arthur.
“What do you mean, Arthur,” asked Mordred, trying to play innocent. In the past, Arthur would have fallen for it, but he knew the truth now.
“The video. You almost had me fooled. But I’ve got other sources of information, like how you don’t even take classes at Avalon, or that you’re not even Wizard.”
Mordred gave a start and got up to leave quickly, but two strong hands kept him from moving.
“Hello, Mordred,” said Lancelot.
“Fancy meeting you here,” said Gwaine.
“Don’t you even...” Arthur’s gaze turned from business like to serious. “You played me. You made me believe you were Wizard when you knew it was Merlin the whole time. You made me doubt Merlin’s friendship. Were you working with Sophia as well? Did you get Merlin fired?”
“It’s best to give him an honest answer,” said Percival with an edge. “He has not been having a good few days.”
“Yes,” said Mordred. The grip on his shoulders tightened. “Hey, watch it, meatheads.”
A hand grabbed the back of his neck.
“Unless it’s to answer a question, don’t say a word,” said Lancelot.
“Why?” asked Arthur.
Mordred turned to look at him with pure hatred.
“Dylan Druid,” he said.
Arthur frowned. The name wasn’t familiar to him at all. It probably had something to do with his father.
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” he said.
“Of course it doesn’t,” said Mordred angrily. “All of you Pendragons are the same. Never thinking about the little people. You take people’s dreams and throw them aside like they’re nothing.”
“I have never heard of Dylan Druid and until a month ago, I never even met you.”
“Yes you have!” yelled Mordred. “Fifteen years ago. At a business function. Your father and mine met to merge companies. My father’s was small but it was growing, until your father went out of contract and shut the company down after buying over half the shares.”
“Dylan Druid was your father?” said Arthur in shock.
“Yes! I had to use my mother’s name just to get a job! After my father’s company went under, thanks to your father, my father had to find work at a measly computer company and my mother left us because my father couldn’t keep her in the lifestyle she was used to. She remarried and forgot all about her failure of a husband and son. My dad drank until his liver failed eight years ago and he died. I swore I would get back at the Pendragons. It’s all your fault!”
“Are you done?” asked Arthur with a blasé tone. Mordred looked at him in shock. Arthur could understand Mordred’s anger. When Arthur was a child, Uther was buying out shares in various rival companies, but there had been too many to remember. If Dylan Druid had been one of them, than he truly felt sorry for Mordred. “I’m sorry my father stole your father’s company from him, but that was no reason to involve Merlin into it. If you have a problem with me or my family, you should have come to me and told me about it, not go behind my back and manipulate me into giving you whatever you want.”
Arthur’s gaze turned serious and Mordred stared in shock and fear at the fierceness in his eyes.
“Because you have involved Merlin, I will now tell you this. If you so much as come within a hundred feet of me or Merlin or any member of my family, I will rain upon you ever piece of influence my name has and you better pray to never see the light of day again.”
“And if I don’t?” asked Mordred with a sneer.
“Then I think my good friends at the tax department will want to know how you could afford that nice car you own on a waiter’s salary. And let’s not forget Senator Ashley’s wife. She’s a lawyer for the justice department, and while she would hate her husband for sleeping with you, she hates prostitution more.”
“How did you…?”
“Videos, Mordred,” said Gwaine with a grin. “You’re not the only one who can hack into someone’s computer.”
“We’ve thoroughly deleted every copy of every video you’ve made,” said Arthur. “We’ve made six copies and hide them in six different locations that only each of us know about. If you don’t follow my instructions, they will be given to the police and you’ll be arrested for prostitution, black mail and possible ten other indictments.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” said Mordred, afraid and mortified.
“Try anything and find out.”
Mordred’s entire body was shaking. Those videos were his ticket to getting his revenge on the Pendragons and head straight to the top. Without them, he had nothing.
“You have ten seconds to leave before my friends find a new punching bag,” said Arthur lifting his coffee to take a sip.
“Ten, nine eight, seven…” said Gwaine, making it sound like a rocket launch. Knowing that Arthur was serious, Mordred got up and left the café. As soon as he left, a middle aged woman walked out from the kitchen and stood at the table.
“You done, kid,” she asked.
“Yes,” said Arthur and smiles at her gratefully. “Thanks for letting us use your diner, Kaleigh.”
“Hell, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have this place, so I figured it’s half yours anyway. If you want to use it to shake down some dick-licking punk, go right ahead.”
Arthur smiled at Kaleigh’s words. The woman had a way with them. With her help, and a couple hundred passed around to customers and the waiting staff, he easily got the diner to himself at the required moment.
“I better go,” he said standing up.
“Give everyone my best, and free pies next time you come in,” said Kaleigh.
“You make the best pies,” said Gwaine.
With final goodbyes, they lift the diner and got into their cars.
“Take me home,” said Arthur to Elyan as he got into the pickup with him and Lancelot. They drove for thirty minutes until they pulled up in front of a building and Arthur got out.
“We’ll come back with some lunch,” said Lancelot. “I know you haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“Too knotted up to eat,” said Arthur.
“Well, you’re going to. See you in thirty.”
Elyan drove away and Arthur walked up to the building. The people looked at him with a mix of curiosity and pity. He didn’t stop until he came to one room and looked at the two occupants inside.
“Any change?” he asked.
“No,” said Hunith, shaking her head and turned to her sleeping son. “The doctors say he should be waking up, but he’s not.”
Arthur walked in and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“You should go home and rest,” he said. “I’ll stand watch.”
“Thank you. I brought the book he was reading, but I couldn’t find it in myself to open it. It would be like…”
Like he wasn’t coming back. Arthur knew the possibility lingered in the back of everyone’s mind.
Hunith stood and smiled at him.
“You’re a good boy, Arthur,” she said as she kissed his cheek and walked out.
Arthur wished he was. A good boy wouldn’t have caused his friend to go into a coma. Sitting on the chair provided by the hospital, Arthur picked up the book on the table next to the bed and looked at the title. Howl’s Moving Castle. Merlin always did know a good book. Opening the book, he ignored the bookmark and started at the beginning.
“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite the misfortune to be born the eldest of three…”
-Howl’s Moving Castle is written by Diana Wynne Jones. Loved the book and the movie by Hayao Miyazaki
Two months later
“What the fuck?!”
There were a lot of things, Arthur had been expecting when he picked up the morning newspaper to read during breakfast, and Merlin’s sleeping face was not one of them. The words “PENDRAGON HEIR VISITS LOCAL SLEEPING BEAUTY” was written in bold letters and the article looked at least a foot and a half long. The edge of the paper crumpled in his hands in hanger.
“Arthur, language!” said Hunith from the stove.
It had been two months since the accident and nearly seven weeks of Arthur living with Hunith. The thought of going back to his empty apartment terrified him that he would get a call that Merlin was dead so he started staying at Hunith’s in Merlin’s room. Plus it gave her someone to look after and not panicking over Merlin. She saw Arthur as a second son and mothered him as any mother would.
Arthur graduated the month before and started working at Morgana’s publishing house as a junior editor. Arthur had as Morgana to not go easy on him, which made her give him an evil look and said, “What are big sisters for?” She certainly wasn’t playing favorites with him. She had him working with the hardest clients and most days, he felt like hitting her for all the workload he got, but the upside was that he would have enough time in the evenings to write at least a few pages of his story.
“What has got you in a tiff?” asked Hunith, walking over to place a plate of sunny side eggs, sausage and hash browns in front of him. When she saw a picture of her son on the front page, she gasped. “How did they…?”
“I have no idea, but I’m suing the hospital for invasion of privacy!” said Arthur.
He continued to read the article. It mentioned Arthur, “who refused to answer any questions”, which made Arthur angry since he had never gotten a call from the reporter at all, and an interview with his father. Uther stated that, “Arthur was demonstrating the generosity of the Pendragon family and was visiting each victim of the bus crash.” Arthur had to laugh. Even in public, Uther refused to admit his son was gay. It then stated that Arthur and Uther had recently been estranged for unknown reasons. It seemed Uther hadn’t publically disowned Arthur, probably waiting for Arthur snap out of his sexuality, marry a nice, beautiful, rich girl, settle down and make more heirs.
All Arthur had to say on that was, not going to happen.
The article gave a brief background on Merlin and Arthur wanted to know even more on how they knew so much about him. He was about to rip the paper up when his phone started ringing.
“What?!” he said without looking at the caller id.
“Wow, I guess you saw the article,” said Morgana.
“Yes, and I want to know who to sue.”
“I would start with Uther. He’s the one who made the announcement.”
“What announcement?” he asked.
“What article are you reading?” asked Morgana.
“The one on Merlin in the London Times. Which one are you reading?”
“Look at the engagement announcements.”
Arthur turned the pages and looked at the wedding engagement section. The large picture of him and Sophia in the front made him seething angry.
“What the fuck?!”
“Arthur, language!” said Hunith.
FATHER ANNOUNCES SON’S ENGAGEMENT!
Arthur scanned the article. It read that Uther announced Arthur’s engagement to Sophia Deveraux due to Arthur’s pre-wedding jitters and that the wedding would take place in two months. Sophia was interviewed and said she was happy to marry the man she loved and would spend the rest of his life with him.
“So what are you going to do?” she asked.
“Get your PR people to set up a conference at one,” said Arthur. “We’re going to straighten some things out. Then get your fancy assed lawyer boyfriend…”
“Fiancée. Leon proposed last night!” She said the last part with a squeal and Arthur smiled happily for his sister.
“Congratulations. We’ll celebrate later, but right now…”
“Get everyone here within an hour, got it?”
Arthur hung up and glared at the article.
Arthur glared at the men and woman standing outside of Morgana’s small publishing house. Only five stories high, Morgana had started the business as soon as she graduated from college two years ahead of Arthur. She works with romance/erotic based books and didn’t discriminate on authors or characters. Arthur had read quite a few manuscripts leaning toward his side of a fence. She even worked with graphic novelists, mostly for Arthur’s benefit. That was the department Arthur currently worked part time in and took a few home to continue reading.
“Piranhas, all of them,” he said.
“Well, what did you expect?” said Lancelot. “The great Arthur Pendragon makes an announcement just hours after the morning edition of the paper coming out announcing his engagement to the ‘lovely’ Sophia Deveraux? It’s the scoop everyone one’s going to want.”
“You’re right,” said Arthur. “How’s law school coming?”
“All right,” said Lancelot. “Got offers from several universities and firms. I’m still making a decision.”
“I thought you said Oxford.”
“It’s best to keep one’s options open.”
Arthur nodded. Since graduated, the friends veered off to pursue their careers but still kept in touch. Lancelot went into law school, since he was pre-law already, Percival was already the owner of a building he was going to convert into a gym, Elyan was going to take over his father’s metalwork warehouse and Gwaine had been drafted by Manchester. The season hadn’t started yet and training wouldn’t start for a month so he was spending it as much as he could with his friends.
Gwen got into an internship at a major fashion studio. It was small but she was currently loving her job and spent weekends at the hospital with Merlin during visiting hours. Will was currently trying to get into MIT and was working on a major robotics project as an audition.
Unfortunately, the rest of his friends were too busy with their other projects to come but they sent their support and Leon was off doing what Arthur had asked him to.
“Ready?” asked Morgana walking into the office.
“Like a hole in the head,” said Arthur. “Let’s get this over with.” They walked out of the office, took the stairs down and went out front of the publishing house to the mass outside. They immediately swarmed in front of Arthur as soon as he stood in front of the podium Morgana had one of her assistants set up.
“Hello and thank you for coming,” he said. “As you may have heard, a couple of announcements have been made about me. First off, I would like to say that I have not given permission for any part of my personal life to be posted. The newspaper blatantly disregarded my privacy and of those I care about. Actions that I will take action against.
“The first order of business I wish to clear up is my supposed engagement to Ms. Sophia Deveraux. Let me get one thing clear. I am not engaged or in any sort of relationship with Ms. Deveraux. I have ended relations with her over a month ago. My father’s ‘announcement’ was his impatience for me to find a trophy wife and settle down. I have no plans to marry anyone at this point.
“This brings me to my second order business. My visits to the ICU were of a personal nature. The person or persons that revealed my visits are now under investigation.
“My last order of business is I’m gay.”
As everyone had expected there were questions. A lot of them. Arthur held up a hand and every reporter fell silent.
“I’ve known I was gay since I was fifteen years old. It’s a subject my father refuses to acknowledge and because of that, I’m constantly dating woman to please him. I won’t do it anymore. I’m proud of who I am and have no reason to deny what I am. Thank you.”
He turned and left. He ignored the barrage of questions the reporters threw at him and followed Lancelot through the first floor of Morgana’s publishing company.
“Come on, let’s go out the back,” said Lancelot.
That’s what they did. They went out the back way and took Lancelot’s Benz to the hospital. It was Arthur’s day off and everyone knew he spent the entire day with Merlin. Walking through the halls, he didn’t go to Merlin’s room right away. Instead, he went to the head of the hospital and stood outside the office, waiting to be admitted.
“Mr. Pendragon, the director will see you now,” said the secretary.
Finally, thought Arthur as he walked in. the hospital director, whose name was Jones going by the gold laminated name plate on the desk, stood up and looked at him with anxious eyes.
“Mr. Pendragon, I am sincerely sorry for any inconvenience…” he started before Arthur cut him off.
“Of course it inconveniences me,” he said. “I want to know who leaked the information about me and Merlin and I want them dealt with or I will sue this hospital. We were promised absolute privacy. Where the hell was that?!”
“Mr. Pendragon, I assure you everyone with access to Mr. Emrys’s room is being thoroughly investigated…”
“They better be. I’m paying for the best care for Merlin. If any harm comes to him or Hunith, I will hold you personally accountable.”
“I assure you, Mr. Pendragon, that we are doing everything possible,” said Jones.
“Good,” said Arthur. “Be sure to give all your findings to my friend, Mr. du Loc.”
Arthur left. One thing he learned from his father was to never let anyone stall his time. It always seemed that everyone wanted to garner the attention of a Pendragon. He had learned to quickly to get to the point of every conversation so he wouldn’t have to stay longer than he needed to. He didn’t want to be in the hospital director’s office. He wanted to be by Merlin’s side.
Walking into Merlin’s room, nothing had changed since Arthur had visited the day before. Arthur had made a note to buy new flowers soon, white roses this time, before sitting on the spare chair set by the nurses next to the bed. Get well cards and photos of friends and of Hunith were set on every available surface. Books, waiting to be read, were placed on the stand next to the bed.
Usually when Arthur visited, he would read on of Merlin’s books or play a movie on the portable DVD player, anything to jump-start Merlin’s brain. So far, nothing helps, but Arthur wasn’t going to stop until Merlin woke up.
Picking up Merlin’s hand, he gently squeezed it. He straightened Merlin’s unruly black hair, growing from the shave the doctors gave him to stitch the head wound the accident gave him.
“Come back to me, Merlin,” he said. “Please, come back.”
“Merlin, don’t forget the snacks,” said Hunith as she set up the table. Merlin came in with a bowl of chips and salsa.
“Got them,” he said smiling. Hunith smacked him over the head. “Ow! Mum!”
“The veggie plate,” said Hunith pointing back into the kitchen. Merlin mumbled a complaint as he went back into the kitchen and a rumbling laugh came from the living room.
“That boy would forget his own head if it wasn’t attached,” said Balinor walking up to his wife.
“He gets it from you,” said Hunith smacking her husband in the chest. The door bell sounded. “They’re here.”
“I got it!” said Merlin running from the kitchen to quickly set the veggie plate on the table before running to the front door. “Hey, guys!”
“Hey, Merlin,” said Gwen handing over a casserole before walking in. Lancelot and will walked in after her. “Are we the first to arrive?”
“Yeah, but the others should be here soon.”
“Congratulations, Merlin,” said Lancelot holding out a hand and Merlin shook it. “Always knew you could do it.”
“Thanks, Lancelot,” said Merlin. “Come on, we’ve got snacks.”
Merlin led them to the living room and for a few minutes the spoke of unimportant subjects until the doorbell rang again.
“Hey, guys!” he said letting Gwaine, Percival and Elyan in. Leon and Morgana were right behind them.
“Hey, Mer, congrats!” said Gwaine handing Merlin a case of beer. Merlin gave it a curious frown.
“Gwaine, I said snacks, not getting us pissed,” he said.
“We’re celebrating! That means getting drunk.”
They walked in, Percival giving Merlin a potato salad in apology and Morgana gave him a bowl of mixed candy.
“You’re going to need your sugar,” she said.
Merlin shook his head at his friends’ antics and closed the door.
“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite the misfortune to be born the eldest of three…”
“Who said that?” asked Merlin looking around.
“Said what?” asked Elyan, the closest to him, grabbing a paper plate and filling it with food.
Merlin continued to look around the room. The voice was so familiar, it was too far away to place yet it sounded like it was said like it was right beside him.
“Nothing,” he said smiling. “Must have been hearing things.”
“Is everyone here?” asked Hunith, walking in with a large bowl of chips and salsa.
“No,” said Morgana taking a chip and dipping it in the salsa. “One more left.”
She took a bite. ¶“He said he’d be late,” said Gwaine popping open a beer. “Work kept him.”
“I hope he’ll come soon,” said Gwen. “Wouldn’t want him to miss it.”
“I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord. I'm from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I'm nine hundred and three years old and I'm the man who's gonna save your lives and all six billion of the people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?”
*In that case, allons-y!”
A different voice, but again familiar, spoke next to his ear. It wasn’t spoken by any of his friends since they were all talking about something completely different.
“Please come back, baby. Everyone misses you. I miss you. I lost your father. I can’t lose you too.”
That was his mother’s voice, but she was talking to Gwen about the newest fashion line. His father was talking to Gwaine and Elyan about the latest game. Lost? Who was lost?
“So,” said Lancelot, standing up. “We’re here to celebrate Merlin’s dream coming true. To his first single!”
“To Merlin!” said the group, saluting him. He saluted back and they took a drink.
“According to the schedule,” said Percival looking at the television guide. “The video should start in a couple of minutes.”
“I can’t believe Merlin’s song won best single!” said Gwen. “This is so exciting!”
“It’s about to start,” said Gwaine impatiently looking at his watch. “Where is he?”
“Everyone’s worried you’ll never wake up, Merlin. Even Arthur’s close to losing it. He blames himself, you know. He thinks he’s the one who caused this.”
It was Gwen’s voice this time, a little louder, but again, Gwen was Gwaine on taking so many snacks before the party actually started.
What was wrong with Arthur? Why would he be ‘losing it’ and caused what?
A sudden wave of pain shot through him, and he heard the sounds of metal crunching metal. The room spun and he stumbled to the floor. He held his stomach in pain as nausea settled in his stomach and he almost threw up. He looked over at his friends and parents to see them still talking amongst themselves, not noticing Merlin in pain on the floor.
Why did they ignore him? Did they not notice that he was in pain?
He didn’t have time to wonder more on it as there was a knock at the door and Hunith hurried to answer it.
“Merlin, guess who it is,” said Hunith in a teasing tone as Arthur walked next to her.
“Arthur, you made it,” said Merlin going up to his boyfriend.
“I said I would,” said Arthur kissing Merlin on the cheek. “I always said your dream would come true.”
“There is no such thing as a happy ending in this world!”
“Of course there is if you’re willing to fight for it!”
Merlin held his head as another strange voice echoed in his head. Everyone was gathered around the television, waiting for Merlin’s song to be played live at the music awards. Why were they ignoring him in obvious pain? Did they not care for him?
“If you give up, all your dreams…everything...just ends there!”
A dream? Was all this a dream? Looking around at his friends, his parents, he was unsure, but something told him that it was. Everything about it was all wrong. Nothing felt right, not even when Arthur kissed him. It should have felt right, but it didn’t.
“Come back to me, Merlin. Please, come back.”
That voice, Arthur’s voice in his head, felt right. Walking away from his family’s merriment, he walked to the front door and opened it.
Arthur typed the last of his report on the newest writer he hoped Morgana would publish before signing off the computer and started packing his briefcase. He briefly wondered what Hunith was making for dinner that night. He had never thought he would enjoy the simple domestic life he had with Hunith and wondered what it would be like with Merlin. He wondered if Merlin was as good a cook as Hunith. Being from a family of a billionaire, Arthur never learned how to cook.
He paused in packing to look at the picture of Merlin on his desk. Hunith had given it to him as soon as he started working in Morgana’s publishing company. There was even a picture of all of his friends, Gwaine with his arm thrown over Arthur’s shoulder in a headlock.
Arthur picked up the picture of Merlin and looked at the soft blue eyes. It had been taken during a concert or something because Merlin was on stage with his guitar singing into the microphone. It was the perfect picture of Merlin. Merlin had never been more alive than on stage singing his songs.
He set the picture back on his desk and picked up his briefcase. As he closed his office door, a handsome man with blonde hair walked up to him. Arthur suppressed a groan.
“Arthur, are you leaving?” he asked.
“Yes, Chad,” he said walking toward the elevator.
“Well, if you’re not too busy, maybe you and I could get a couple of drinks? I know I’d appreciate the company.”
Arthur had to take a breath to keep from yelling at the man. Ever since he had publically come out two weeks ago, one of the assistants, Chad, had been hitting on him every time he walked out of his office door. It didn’t matter how many times Arthur refused each invitation, the man was relentless.
“No, Chad, I have someplace I need to be,” he said as the elevator doors opened.
“Oh, well, maybe tomorrow? I’m free the entire weekend.”
Arthur got on the elevator and pressed the button for the lobby.
“That’s too bad, because I am not,” said Arthur as the doors closed.
He sighed in relief. He had told Morgana about Chad and she talked to him, but the man still persisted on pursuing Arthur. The only reason she hasn’t fired him yet was because he was very good at what he does. Arthur does all he could to avoid him but somehow Chad always finds him. Gwaine calls it Chad’s “Arthur radar”, which earned him a slap over the head by his boyfriend.
Hailing a cab, he gave the address to the one place he went to every evening and relaxed the entire ride. When he arrived, he paid the driver and walked inside.
“Hi, Zoe,” he said, greeting the nurse at the front desk.
“Hi, Arthur,” she said holding out a clipboard for him to sign. “How was work?”
“Same old, same old,” he said. “I was able to get an early copy of that author you like.”
Zoe’s eyes lit up.
“Really? That’s amazing, Arthur, thank you.”
“It’s nothing. How are the kids?”
“Oh, speaking of.” Zoe held out a handmade card. Arthur took it and opened it to find the words ‘Thank You’ in capital letters and the signatures of multiple children. “They loved the new toys, and the doctors love the donation you gave. Now we can get the equipment we need to take care of them.”
“The money was just sitting there. I’d rather it be used for something than gather dust.”
“Well, feel free to give a little more anytime.”
Arthur smiled at the woman and walked toward the elevator. He pressed the floor he wanted and waited until the doors opened until he walked out and toward Merlin’s room.
With the help of friends, it had transformed into a room Merlin would love to live in. Pictures of his friends and mother were set on the stand next to the bed, flowers were delivered fresh daily by Arthur’s request. Today they were snowdrops and pink carnations. Books were placed on a shelf in one corner of the room, waiting to be read. Hunith had even set Merlin’s favorite pillow and blanket on the bed in hopes of it waking him up sooner. There was even a large get well doll in the corner with balloons, a gift from Gwaine. No one had the heart to hit him over the size of the gift because it showed how much Gwaine cared.
The most significant item was the guitar next to the bed. It was the one Hunith had said belonged to Merlin’s father and the one Merlin used when he was writing songs. Arthur placed a radio on the stand and carefully placed the CD in the slot. One of the few privileges of a private suite was that he could put just about anything in the room, if it didn’t interfere with the hospital equipment.
He placed the newest picture frame on the shelf with the others. It was of Morgana and Leona after they announced their engagement. Morgana held up her left hand to show off the princess cut engagement ring. Written on the picture was a message from both of them. ‘Wish you were here.’
They all wished that. Merlin’s absence was a weight on all of their hearts, but Arthur more so. Since the accident, Arthur had time to think about his feelings about Merlin, and he realized that he was in love with him. He might always have. Now, he was watching the man he loved slowly fade away and couldn’t do anything about it.
Arthur turned to see Doctor Grey standing at the door.
“Doc, hey,” said Arthur. “How’s he doing today?”
“His readings are slightly elevated, which is a good sign, but whether he wakes up or not is still to be seen.”
“Of course he’ll wake up,” said Arthur defensively. “He’s Merlin.”
Doctor Grey nodded. He spent over two months listening to Merlin Emrys’ mother and friends defend the young man without hesitation. Some families would have given up after a while, but the passion this group have to this young man was a rare sight and he was glad to see it.
“His broken limbs have healed, though I do have reservations on his right hand,” Grey continued. “It was near crushed when he came in and we repaired it as best as we could. I have scheduled our best physical therapist to start tomorrow.”
“Will he be able to play?” asked Arthur, knowing that if Merlin couldn’t play his guitar anymore, he’d be crushed.
“I honestly can’t say. The P.T. will be able to give you a better answer on that. I still have some concerns on his spine.”
“What concerns?” asked Arthur.
“Well, since his vertebrae were bruised, there is a slight chance that his spine was compromised, but we won’t be able to know that until he’s awake and we do some testing. From his most recent scans, it doesn’t look good.”
“As long as he’s alive, I don’t care,” said Arthur. “He will wake up and he will walk.”
“I hope he does as well,” he said. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Grey turned to leave when Arthur’s voice stopped him.
“Doctor Grey?” Grey turned around to face Arthur. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Arthur,” he said and left. Arthur turned back to the man sleeping on the bed.
“Hey, Merlin, remember this?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a carefully folded bent piece of paper. He opened it. “It’s the song you dropped when we met, the first time I mean. I always meant to return it to you. Sorry about that. But I finished it for you. I may not be as good as you, but it’s from the heart. That’s what’s important, isn’t it?”
Picking up the guitar, he set it on his lap and pressed play on the radio. “Did I ever tell you that I’m fairly good with a guitar, too?”
He started strumming to the music he had Gwen and Will prerecord for him.
"Maybe it's intuition /But some things you just don't question/Like in your eyes/I see my future in an instant/And there it goes/I think I've found my best friend/I know that it might sound more than a little crazy /But I believe
I knew I loved you before I met you/I think I dreamed you into life/I knew I loved you before I met you/I have been waiting all my life
There's just no rhyme or reason/Only this sense of completion and in your eyes/I see the missing pieces/I'm searching for/I think I found my way home/I know that it might sound more than a little crazy /But I believe
I knew I loved you before I met you/I think I dreamed you into life/I knew I loved you before I met you/I have been waiting all my life
A thousand angels dance around you/I am complete now that I found you
I knew I loved you before I met you/I think I dreamed you into life/I knew I loved you before I met you/I have been waiting all my life"
He stopped and took a deep breath to calm his nerves and try to not tear up. He couldn’t count how many times he had lay on Merlin’s bed and forced himself to keep from crying. Sometimes he didn’t, and other times he was crying so hard Hunith held him, sharing in his grief. It was hard to think that the one you loved might never wake up.
It hurt even worse knowing that Arthur would never have Merlin. Merlin was in love with someone else. A part of Arthur wanted punch the mystery man in the face for denying him the existence of the most incredible person Arthur had ever known. As Neanderthal as it sounded, he wanted to fight for Merlin instead of standing at the sidelines and watch from the outside looking in. But he couldn’t, and that hurt.
He reached over and took Merlin’s hand in his and traced the lines on the palm. It made him feel better, pretending that Merlin actually liked him, or even, God help him, love him. He knew that reality would hit him as soon as Merlin woke up but for now, he was content on pretending.
He blinked. He could have sworn he saw Merlin’s finger twitch. Looking at Merlin’s hand, he saw it slowly curl into his.
“Merlin?” he said looking at the younger man, but his eyes remained closed. He looked down and sure enough, Merlin’s hand clasped his. Without removing his hand, Arthur pressed the emergency button on the wall. In no time, a nurse walked in. Arthur turned to the nurse with joy. “He moved! His hand moved!”
“I’ll get Doctor Grey,” said the nurse and she left.
Arthur sat on the chair in happy relief. Merlin moved. Merlin moved his hand. He had to tell the others. Grabbing the phone on the stand, he dialed Gwaine, the one person he knew who would spread the news quickly.
“Arthur! Guessing from the ID, you’re calling from the hospital.”
There was a crash of something very breakable.
“What?” said Gwaine softly.
“He moved,” said Arthur. “His hand, it curled with mine. He’s holding my hand.”
“Call everyone. Get them here.”
Gwaine hung up and Arthur did the same as Doctor Grey walked in.
“Doctor Grey, he’s holding my hand,” said Arthur happily. “He did it on his own, I swear.”
Grey walked to the monitors and checked everything.
“His brain activity increased in the last five minutes,” he said. “It’s a good sign. It means he’s waking up.”
“When will he be fully conscious?” asked Arthur.
“Hard to say. It could be in a few days, it could be a week. The brain is rebooting, you could say. It takes time. If we try to speed up the process, we could do more harm than good.” He gave Arthur a look. “I trust you called the others?”
“Yes,” said Arthur.
“I’ll wait to speak to them, then,” said Grey and left.
Arthur took Merlin’s hand in both of his and lifted it up, as if praying.
“Please wake up soon, Merlin,” he said. “Please wake up soon.”
The first time Merlin opened his eyes in over two and a half months, he awake to Gwaine yelling at the television as a game of soccer played. He was still groggy from his nap but he still wondered why Gwaine was in his room, and why his room smelled like bleach and flowers. There was an odd beeping sound under the sounds of the game.
There was the shrill of a referee whistle and Gwaine cursed.
“Come on, ref!” he said. “That was a foul!”
Merlin voice came out cracked and dry, barely audible but the other man seemed to have heard it because he turned to Merlin in shock.
“Merlin! Thank God you’re awake! Are you okay?” he said in a rush. Merlin looked at his friend confused.
“ ‘m okay,” he said. “Where am I?”
Gwaine turned somber at the question.
Before Gwaine finished his answer, the door to the room opened and Percival walked in with a box of pizza.
“Here’s the pizza, and I did not have them put any M&M on your half. I don’t care what you say, that’s not a pizza topping.”
Percival turned to the bed, and dropped the pizza box on the floor. He stared at Merlin in shock before recovering and going to the bedside.
“P’cy,” said Merlin. “What happened?”
“You didn’t tell him?” asked Percival looking at Gwaine.
“I was about to when you came in.”
“Merlin,” said Percival turning to Merlin. “You were in a bus accident. You’re in the hospital.”
Merlin’s entire body shook at the information just given to him and the beeping increased as his pulse raced. Spots danced in front of his eyes.
“I think he’s going to pass out!”
Everything went black.
Arthur was having lunch with Hunith when he got the call. It took him a couple to seconds to decipher Gwaine’s hurried speech before he understood what was happening.
“All right, slow down. Say again?” he asked.
“Merlin woke up!” said Gwaine excitedly. “He spoke!”
Arthur froze in shock, the phone still to his ear. His mind could only process two words at the moment. Merlin’s awake. Merlin’s awake. It seemed almost like it was happening to someone else. He only knew it was reality by Hunith shaking his shoulder.
“Arthur, honey, what’s wrong? You’re as pale as a ghost!”
“Merlin’s awake,” said Arthur softly, voicing the words that had been going through his head.
Hunith gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. Arthur hung up the phone and grabbed his car keys.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Hunith didn’t question and followed Arthur to his car. He didn’t know how he got to the hospital without crashing. It was like he was on autopilot. They drove to the hospital as quickly as they could and went to Merlin’s room. Gwaine and Percival were already there and Gwen and Lancelot looked like they had just arrived. They turned at Arthur and Hunith’s arrival. Gwaine immediately left the seat for Hunith to sit in and take Merlin’s hand.
“The others are coming soon,” said Percival.
Arthur nodded, still in a state of shock. Merlin still looked like he slept. His chest rose up and down with each breath he took and the monitors gave its steady beep. It looked like he was still in a coma.
Within a few minutes, the rest of the gang arrived and waited in Merlin’s room for the doctor’s arrival. By that time, Merlin started to stir again.
“Merlin,” said Hunith happily. “Thank God you’re awake!”
“Mum,” said Merlin groggily. “What are you doing here?”
“You’re in the hospital, honey. Do you remember what happened?”
Merlin paused for a minute, his face in sleepy concentration.
“No, what did happen?” he asked.
“Merlin, my name is Doctor Gray,” said Gray. “I’m your doctor. What is the last thing you remember?”
Merlin paused in concentration again.
“Singing, I remember singing. I can just hear the words.”
“Probably one of your songs,” said Gwen with a laugh. Merlin shook his head.
“No. It’s familiar, like I should have written it, but I didn’t write it.” He started to softly sing. “I knew I loved you before I met you/I think I dreamed you into life…”
No one saw Arthur’s look of surprise. Everyone kept their gaze on the man on the bed.
“What do you remember before that?” asked Gray.
“Class,” said Merlin. “Going to my afternoon class.”
“It’s not uncommon for crash victims to forget the trauma,” said Gray. “Sometimes they’ll remember it later on, sometimes they don’t.”
“When can I go home?” asked Merlin.
“As soon as your physical therapist deems you ready,” said Gray.
Merlin looked at the doctor in surprise.
“But, we can’t afford…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, Merlin,” said Hunith. “Arthur’s paying for everything.”
“He is,” said Merlin looking at Arthur.
“You’re my friend, Merlin,” he said. “I’d do anything to help a friend.”
Merlin smiled at him and turned back to the doctor who was giving more details on Merlin’s recovery but Arthur tuned them out. Merlin didn’t remember the crash. He didn’t remember the argument they had before it happened. Arthur didn’t know if that was a blessing or a curse.
Hours later, everyone had caught Merlin up on what had happened in the three months he had been asleep. He was overjoyed over Morgana’s and Leon’s engagement and they insisted he coordinate the songs for the wedding, which he gladly agreed to.
“I’m sorry, but visiting hours are almost over,” said nurse toward evening. “Merlin needs his rest.”
“Of course,” said Hunith, albeit reluctantly. She turned back to Merlin. “We’ll be back tomorrow, okay, dear.”
“Okay, Mum,” said Merlin smiling at her. “Can Arthur stay for a minute? I want to talk to him.”
Everyone was surprised by Merlin’s request, Arthur more than the other, but Hunith reluctantly agreed.
“All right,” she said.
Leaning over, she kissed Merlin’s cheek and stood and left. One by one the rest of the group made their good-nights as they left until just Arthur remained. Arthur stood nervously looking at Merlin.
Why did Merlin only want to talk to him? Did he remember something or was he just curious on what happened that day? What would Arthur say if Merlin asked that question? What would he do?
“Arthur, I feeling I’m missing something,” he said. “Did something happen between us?”
Arthur had to force himself to breath. He knew this was going to happen.
“Yes,” he said. “Something happened.”
Arthur drew a shaky breath.
“We had an argument. I forget what it was about.” Liar. “But you were right, and I was wrong.”
“Now I wished I remember,” said Merlin with a laugh. “It’s not often I get to one up you.” He pauses. “The argument, how bad was it?”
“Bad,” said Arthur. “One I don’t think you’ll forgive me for if you knew.”
“Of course I’ll forgive you,” said Merlin smiling. “It’s not like you caused me to get hit by a bus and go into a coma.”
Arthur winced. He was glad Merlin didn’t see his reaction or there would have been more to explain.
“I’m glad you’re here, Arthur,” said Merlin still smiling at him. “I’m glad you’re my friend.”
Arthur smiled back, and suddenly, the last three months came crashing down on him and he broke down. He barely registered Merlin pulling him into his arms as he cried. He cried for the friend he betrayed and almost lost. He felt Merlin rub his back and comb his fingers in his hair in comfort.
“I’m here, Arthur,” said Merlin softly. “I’m okay.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
Merlin looked at him in surprise.
“Hurt me? Arthur, you never hurt me. I was on my way home. What happened was a series of unfortunate events. It couldn’t have been stopped. That truck would have hit the bus whether I was on it or not.”
Arthur didn’t say anything as he registered what he heard. It wasn’t exactly forgiveness but it was as close as he was going to get. He silently vowed that no matter what, Merlin would never find out what really happened that day. Never find out what they argued over, or Arthur betrayal. He would be the friend Merlin deserved.
An hour had passed before they realized it when a nurse arrived to change Merlin’s bedpan. Her soft knock startled them and they turned to her kind smile.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Pendragon, but visiting hours are over,” she said. “Mr. Emrys needs his rest.”
“Thank you, Joy,” he said smiling at her gratefully. “I’ll be gone in a minute.”
She nodded and left to allow them a minute alone. Arthur turned back to Merlin who was smiling at him in amazement and humor.
“Familiar with the staff, are we?” he said. Arthur laughed.
“Well, it has been over two months,” said Arthur.
“I’m just surprised they didn’t kick you out.”
“They wouldn’t, not with how much I donated to the pediatric ward.”
Merlin looked at him in shock and Arthur wondered if he had said the right thing.
“You did that?” he asked. Arthur nodded. “Why?”
“My father was giving me money to try and get me back to his side,” said Arthur. “I never wanted it, and I knew he would just send more if I sent it back, so I decided to do something with it. I gave it to the hospital.”
“Arthur,” said Merlin in awe. “You’re amazing.”
Arthur looked at Merlin in surprise before smiling.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Merlin. “I don’t know a lot of people who would do that. Most people I know would have taken the money and used it for themselves. You’re an amazing man.”
Arthur smiled at Merlin’s words. He only wished he was worthy of them.
“I better let you sleep,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay. Good night, Arthur.”
“Good night, Merlin.”
Arthur left the hospital and got into his car, but instead of going to Hunith’s, he drove toward Lancelot’s. By the look on his friend’s face after opening the door, Arthur knew Lancelot was expecting him.
“Come in,” he said.
Arthur walked in and sat on the couch as Lancelot went to his refrigerator and got a beer. He gratefully accepted the drink as Lancelot popped the top from a second one and sat in the chair next to the couch.
“He doesn’t remember what happened,” said Arthur after taking a sip of beer. “He doesn’t remember the fight.”
“And that’s a good thing, Arthur,” said Lancelot. “A guy like Merlin doesn’t deserve the nightmares.”
“I still can’t forgive myself for what I did. I called him a liar. I drove him away, onto that bus…”
“Arthur, we’ve been through this. That wasn’t your fault. That truck would have hit that bus whether Merlin was on it or not. Nothing you did made the truck hit the bus. It was just horrible coincidence that Merlin was on it.”
“What if he asks about the fight?” asked Arthur. “What do I say?”
“The truth?” said Lancelot. “Apologize? You’ve been busting yourself up over this for two months. Merlin’s fine. He’s finally awake. Let it go.”
“I can’t let it go!” Arthur looked up at his friend in near desperation and anguish. “He’s not fine. He may never walk again. He may never write music again, and that’s my fault!”
Lancelot sighed. The friends knew that Arthur viewed the accident as his fault. It was no secret among them. It was evident from the look on Arthur’s face every time he looked at Merlin. No matter how many times they told him, Arthur wouldn’t get past the guilt he felt in his part of Merlin’s injuries. Lancelot didn’t know how to get Arthur past his guilt, and he thinks he one person who can can’t even remember.
Arthur folded his last shirt and placed it in his suitcase. He already had asked Lancelot to take his stuff back to his apartment. He double checked everything so he wouldn’t leave anything behind. He didn’t want any evidence of his staying there left behind.
He clicked his suitcase shut as Hunith walked in through the open door. She looked back at him with a look of grief.
“You don’t have to go,” she said.
“I’m just giving Merlin his room back,” he said. “You know I couldn’t stay forever.”
Hunith sighs sadly.
“I just gotten used to having you around,” she said.
Arthur walks over to her and gently places a hand on her shoulder.
“And I’ve gotten used to being around. But I can’t stay. I got my own place and soon, you’ll have your son to mother hen.”
“You need someone to look after you,” said Hunith.
“That’s what Lancelot’s for,” he said and they both laughed. “And besides, it’s not like I’m disappearing forever. You’ll see me again.”
Hunith smiled up at him and patted his cheek.
“Such a good boy,” she said. “Merlin’s lucky to have you.”
Something in Hunith’s tone made Arthur pause. Did she mean…?
“I may be old, but I can still see. You wouldn’t go through the lengths you did for a friend you just met, and you wouldn’t stay with me if you were just worried about me staying all by my lonesome. And I’ve heard you talking to Lancelot. The accident wasn’t your fault. Merlin would tell you that if he remembered. It was all just a horrible accident.”
Arthur gave Hunith a sad smile.
“I know,” he said. “Everyone keeps telling me that, and I know rationally it’s true, but I can’t help thinking that if I had just stopped being angry and stopped him from getting on the bus, then maybe he would be okay now. He’d still be playing his guitar, writing…”
“What was the argument that got you so mad and made Merlin leave?” asked Hunith.
Arthur hesitated in answering. Hunith was the only one who did not know about Mordred, and a large part of him was grateful for it, but he also knows that she deserved to know the truth.
“It started six months ago,” he said. “I was online when I met someone nicknamed Wizard and we started talking. Soon, we told each other everything. How he wanted to be song writer and I wanted to be an author.”
“Merlin,” said Hunith. Arthur nodded.
“We became fast friends and I suggested we meet. Even through an email I could tell that he was hesitant, but he agreed. My father was hosting a mask “charity banquet” at the time and I suggested we meet then. I even asked Merlin’s band to play.”
Arthur continued to describe what had happened from the time of the banquet to the accident. When he described Mordred’s accusation and Arthur’s doubt in Merlin’s innocence, he teared up and paused to catch his breath.
“Well, now I know who to blame,” she said. “That awful Mordred person. To think he did all this because of something out of your control. Some people don’t know who to blame and place it on the wrong people.”
“I don’t know how to make up for what I’ve done,” he said. “When I thought of what I had done, I get this ache in my chest, like I’m suffocating and the sight of him hurt makes me want to hurt Mordred for making me believe him, and myself for making me run him off onto that bust. I feel like I’m dying inside, and I can’t make it go away.”
“You love him.” Arthur looked up at Hunith in shock. “Why would you feel the way you do, or go through the lengths you have to help him? You love him.”
Arthur paused as he thought over Hunith’s words. Did he love Merlin? He thought of all the love sonnets he had read growing up, but nothing only one came to him when it came to Merlin.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no! It is an ever-fixèd mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved
His conclusion; he was unquestionably in love with Merlin.
“It wouldn’t matter,” said Arthur. “He’s in love with someone else.”
“With who?” asked Hunith.
“He didn’t say and I didn’t ask.”
“Well, the future’s not set in stone, and you still have a chance. I’m sure it won’t be too hard for him to fall for you.”
Arthur smiled at her gratefully, but inside, he doubted that Merlin would fall for him. He had seen the far off look Merlin would have from time to time, and knew that he wasn’t concentrating on his textbooks, a song or even what Arthur was saying. He was jealous of the man who had captured Merlin’s attention, but knew that he couldn’t do anything to make Merlin notice him as more than a friend.
The alarm on his watch went off and he looked down at the time.
“I got to go pick up Merlin,” he said. “Lance will be here in a few minutes to pick up my stuff.”
“I’ll let him in, just get my boy home.”
“I will,” he said.
He left the house, got into his car and drove toward the hospital. He was a little excited that Merlin was going home. He was glad that Merlin was getting out of the hospital, but it meant that they would be spending less time together. He would have to figure out some way to continue their friendship if he wanted Merlin to stay in his life.
Walking into the hospital, he greeted the nurse at the reception before signing in and walking toward the gym where the physical therapists worked with their charges. Currently, there were three patients working out in the gym. One using leg press to strengthen their legs and one was using weights for a wounded shoulder, but Arthur had his attention on the third. Merlin was between the double bars, his left hand gripping the railing as his right was tucked against his chest. He slowly struggled to move his legs, his face clearly focused on the point in front of him.
“Merlin, it would be easier if you used both hands,” said his P.T., Freya. She had finished her internship while Merlin was in a coma and as soon as they needed a physical therapist, Arthur immediately called her. Doctor Grey questioned Arthur’s decision on hiring a woman so soon out of medical school, but Arthur wouldn’t trust Merlin with anyone other than Freya. Merlin looked apprehensively at his right hand and shook his head.
“I can’t, Freya,” he said. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
Arthur frowned. All the doctors explained that while Merlin’s hand was completely healed, the reasons why he couldn’t use it were purely psychological. Doctor Grey had suggested a therapist which Merlin immediately shot down, for which Arthur was grateful for. In his option, if Merlin had problems, he would talk to his friends about it.
“You’ll never be able to play again if you don’t try,” said Freya.
“I’ll never be able to play again, period,” said Merlin, irritated. “You heard the doctor. It’s broken. Broken!”
“Merlin,” called Arthur, getting the young man’s attention and breaking his irritation. At the sight of Arthur, Merlin grinned and hobbled along the bar. With a final burst of strength, Merlin launched from the bar and embraced Arthur. He was panting and there was a sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“Hi,” he said, grinning up at Arthur.
“Hi,” he said. “Ready to go home?”
“God, yes!” said Merlin.
Arthur laughed again.
“All right, let’s grab your things and head off.”
A wheelchair was rolled to them by an orderly and Arthur helped Merlin into it. He wheeled Merlin back into the room to get the last of Merlin’s items. Most of the flowers, get well stuffed animals and cards were gone. The only items left were a book, couple movies, a change of clothes, and his father’s guitar. The books and movies were put in a bag and the guitar in a case that Arthur strapped to his back for easy carrying. The bag was on Merlin’s lap as Arthur wheeled him out of the hospital.
“Take care, Merlin.”
“Come back to visit, Merlin.”
The last was from an eight year old girl with a broken leg. Merlin loved to spent time with the children, singing softly the ones who were scared to sleep before surgeries and played with the ones bedridden. He was well loved by the children as well with over half the walls covered with drawings. Merlin insisted on keeping them and they were placed in a box for keepsake.
“Bye,” said Merlin, waving to the patients and nurses seeing him off. He turned to Arthur with a sad smile. “I’m going to miss them.”
“We’ll come to visit,” said Arthur. “Ready?”
Arthur helped Merlin into the car, set the guitar and bag in the back before getting into the driver’s seat and drove down the road. Merlin watched the buildings out the window, as if savoring the sight of the city around him.
“Excited to go home?” asked Arthur.
“Yeah,” said Merlin smiling. “Never really liked hospitals, and after spending three months in one, I can’t wait to be back in my own bed. God, Mum must be going nuts living there all by herself.”
“She wasn’t entirely alone,” said Arthur. “Everyone came by once in a while, have supper Sundays. She even got Gwaine to go to church once.”
“And he didn’t burst into a ball of flame?” asked Merlin laughing. “Wow, I would have loved to see that.”
“It was monumental. Elyan is still milking it out.”
Merlin laughed softly. Arthur looked at Merlin’s right arm still tucked against Merlin’s lower stomach.
“Merlin, why won’t you try using your hand?’ he asked. “You know it’s fixed, right?”
Merlin shook his head.
“No, Arthur, it’s broken. What’s broken can’t be fixed.”
“That’s bull crap,” said Arthur. “You’re legs are fixed and you’re learning to walk again.”
“That’s different. My mind can work with my legs, my hand…I just can’t.”
“Don’t say you can’t when you haven’t tried hard enough. The doctors said it was psychological. It’s your fear of never being able to play again. Get over your fear, and you’ll be able to play again.”
“I can’t. My career is gone. I’d be lucky if anyone wants to use my songs anymore.”
“Helen Moira does.” Merlin looks at him in shock. “She has your contract drawn up, everything is legit. Lancelot looked it over.”
“Really? She…she wants my songs?”
“She said your songs were the best she’s heard in her whole career, and that’s including the time she was a singer. She wants your songs, Merlin.”
Merlin was shocked to hear that Helen still wanted him to work for her despite his condition and confused on what to do next. He’d have to think on it some.
“So, how’s Chad?” he asked with a teasing smile. Arthur jerked and looked at Merlin shock.
“Shite, who told you?” he asked, slightly irritated and Merlin thought he heard a touch of fear.
“Gwaine and Morgana and Elyan. Seems you have a fan.”
“I’m going to kill Gwaine,” said Arthur with gritted teeth. Merlin laughed at his friend’s embarrassment.
The rest of the ride was spent with Merlin catching up. When they arrived at Merlin’s house, he was surprised to find the cars of his friends in the driveway and along the curb.
“What’s going on?” asked Merlin.
“I don’t know,” said Arthur, trying to keep his smile in check. “Guess we’ll have to go in and find out.”
Arthur helped Merlin with his new crutches, his right arm still up. He used only one crutch on his left side since it had the worst break and Arthur held Merlin’s right arm to steady the young man’s shaky gaunt.
“Let’s go see what’s going on,” said Arthur as he opened the door.
“Surprise! Welcome home, Merlin!”
Merlin jumped and would have lost his balance if Arthur didn’t have a hold of his arm at the sight of all his friends and mother standing in the living room with food and drinks on the coffee table and a banner that read “Welcome Home, Merlin” strung above the fireplace mantel.
“Guys,” said Merlin with a surprise laugh as he hobbled toward a chair. “You didn’t have to do this.”
“Of course we did,” said Gwen. She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You’re our friend. We’re happy that you’re home.”
“I’m happy to be home,” said Merlin looking around. Immediately he saw something out of place. “Mum, is that a new telly?”
He pointed to the new flat screen placed on the entertainment center where their once second hand television was. He started to notice newer high end electronic equipment all around the room.
“You can thank Arthur for that,” said Hunith. “I finally got the kitchen I wanted thanks to him, and in return all I have to do is give him my apple cinnamon pie once a week.”
“Arthur,” said Merlin turning to him, “you didn’t have to do that.”
“Your mum makes amazing pies,” said Arthur taking a sip of punch, luckily not laced with alcohol. Gwen and Morgana had stressed the importance of Merlin not having a drop of alcohol while on his pain meds and Percival made sure to take Gwaine’s flask away before he came. “I thought I got the better end of the deal.”
Merlin looked at his friend in amazement. Arthur kept surprising him at every turn. The man truly was selfless when it came to the people his life.
“Thank you,” said Merlin smiling at him.
Arthur’s heart stopped for a moment at the stunning smile on Merlin’s face. For a moment he wanted to reach across and kiss the other man, but he held back, remembering that Merlin wasn’t for him.
As Merlin had turned to talk to Will and Gwen, discussing Gwen’s designs for Morgana’s wedding, Arthur walked up to Gwaine and slapped him on the arm.
“Ow! What the hell was that for?” he asked.
“Telling Merlin about Chad,” said Arthur looking at Gwaine in irritation.
“Mate wanted to know what was going on, I was filling him in.”
“I didn’t want him to know about Chad. I can handle it.”
“Mate, it’s been almost four months. I can see how well you’re handling it.”
Arthur glared but he didn’t deny his friend’s statement. Chad was still pursuing Arthur like a crazed roadie. It had gotten to where Chad would spend more time flirting with Arthur than get his work done so Morgana decided she was going to lay him off after the weekend.
The party went on for a couple hours before Gwaine shouted “Karaoke!” and a karaoke machine was brought out. Everyone had a go, including Gwaine who sounded like nails on a chalkboard and everyone booed him off before he finished his number, when the microphone was passed to Merlin.
“Oh, no,” said Merlin shaking his head.
“Come on, Merlin,” urged Gwen. “It’ll be like old times.”
“Yeah, come on, Merlin,” said Gwaine.
The rest of the friends agreed but Merlin still refused, until Hunith spoke up.
“Merlin, sing your father’s song for me, please?” she asked.
Merlin looked at his mother apprehensively before sighing.
“Give,” he said, holding his hand out. The mic was placed in it a minute later. “Track 14.”
Slow music began to play and on the cue, Merlin began to sing.
"Can anybody find me somebody to love?/Each morning I get up I die a little/ Can barely stand on my feet/ Take a look in the mirror and cry/ Lord what you're doing to me/ I have spent all my years in believing you/ But I just can't get no relief, Lord!/ Somebody, somebody/ Can anybody find me somebody to love? "
As he sung, everyone watched the weariness and worry fall from his face and be replaced with one of rapture. When he finished, Merlin smiled softly, remembering how much he loved music and singing had made all his fears and worry float away.
“Beautiful, Merlin,” said Hunith wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Beautiful.”
The party ended a couple hours after that and Merlin and Arthur watched as each guest left, the couples hand in hand. Arthur turned to Merlin curiously.
“When are you going to tell me who your special someone is?” he asked.
Merlin looked at him curiously. “You really want to know?” Arthur nods. “All right then, I promise you that on Morgana’s and Leon’s wedding, I will walk up and kiss him in front of everyone. That way, you’ll know who it is.”
“Why not just tell me?”
“More fun this way,” said Merlin with a grin.
Arthur laughed softly. Merlin and his games.
December came and the countdown to Morgana’s and Leon’s wedding continued. Hunith decorated the house full of Christmas cheer, for she had a lot to be thankful for. Her son was alive and slowly recovering from the accident. Merlin had gotten off the crutches but was now using a cane to walk. The doctors surmise that he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life, with or without a cane. Hunith was fine with that and made things easier for Merlin so he wouldn’t put strain on his weaker leg and injure himself again.
Merlin would admit he was making progress with his walking but there was almost always a pulsing pain that shot from his below his calf. The doctors said it was a phantom pain from the accident but described low-level painkillers to use only when necessary.
The only difficulty he still struggled with was his hand. After two months, he was finally able to curl his hand around a coffee cup, but nothing as small as a pencil or guitar pick. He was smart and quickly learned how to write with his left hand. He enrolled back in school for his last few credits and easily graduated. He sold a few songs to Helen Moira to get started and bought a small apartment. Hunith was sad to see Merlin move out, but like birds, children needed to leave the nest and helped Merlin move, as well as the rest of his friends.
He started hanging around with Arthur more. It became an unofficial agreement between the two to meet up at one or the other’s apartments every Friday to watch a movie and share a beer. Sometimes they would go to Kilgharrah’s bar if they felt like it and listen to the new live band. Both agreed they weren’t as good as The Rejects, but still continued to listen. Sometimes the rest of their friends would join them, but since they had lives of their own, it wasn’t as often as Merlin and Arthur liked.
Christmas presents had gotten a lot hard to buy this year since he had more than three more gifts to buy. His mother was easy. He wrote her a song every year since he discovered his talent. This year, he didn’t know what to do with his lame hand, so he opted to making an album with the songs he made so far that year.
For Gwen he got her a new sketch pad for her fashion designs and Will a book on complex computer programs. He got Gwaine and Percival a new album collection of their favorite artist and Elyan a new game that had come out. With Gwen’s help he bought Morgana a new necklace and Leon a watch. Lancelot he got a briefcase, “For when he’s a big shot lawyer,” he told Gwen.
The most difficult present to get was for Arthur. He wanted it to be special and mean something, but at the same time, he felt that it should be practical and friendly. It was nerve wrecking and he spent hours of endless sleep over it.
The answer came to him one day while going through the drawer in his nightstand. He found a folded up piece of paper and after reading it carefully, he knew he found his gift. Going to his computer, he spent two days getting it ready.
On Christmas Eve, Merlin took a taxi to pick Arthur up from work to take to the group Christmas party. Everyone had somewhere else they needed to be on Christmas, so they decided to have the party on Christmas Eve to exchange presents and celebrate.
Merlin had just gotten off from another grueling therapy session with Freya and was now utterly exhausted, but he worked up enough strength to hail a cab and go to pick up Arthur. Freya wanted him to use a small rubber ball to help his hand and to practice writing. The latter he was hesitant in doing, he knows everyone thought he could use his hand to play again, but he knew he would never be able to play again. Writing had been his life, and the accident took that away from him.
He stepped out with his cane and limped up to the five story publishing house. The front desk secretary smiled as he walked in.
“Hi, Merlin,” she said with an Irish accent. “Come to pick up Arthur, have you?”
“Yeah, Joy,” he said smiling at her. “Been busy?”
“Slow today, actually,” she said. “Got any plans for Christmas?”
“Spending it with my Mum. You?”
“Jane and I are going to her parents. I’m so nervous.”
He could tell how nervous she was by the look on her face. Smiling at her reassuringly, he placed a hand on hers.
“Just be yourself and they’ll love you,” he said. “Jane loves you just the way you are, so don’t try to be anything different.”
“Back at you, stranger.”
Merlin turned to see Arthur smiling at him. He wore a blue button down shirt, trousers and carried a briefcase. Morgana let them wear semi causal clothes unless it was an important meeting.
“Hey, Arthur,” said Merlin happily. “Ready to go?”
Arthur opened his mouth to respond when a voice called out.
Arthur visibly cringed. Merlin looked over Arthur’s shoulder to see a man run up to them, a huge grin on his face. The man was gorgeous, definitely someone Arthur would date. The split thought of Arthur dating anyone hurt Merlin more than his leg currently did but the look on Arthur’s face stopped the thought immediately.
“Arthur,” said the man pressing himself to Arthur’s side. “A friend of mine is hosting this awesome Christmas party. Maybe you and I…”
“I already have plans, Chad,” said Arthur trying to move away but Chad seemed to be Velcro to his side.
Merlin glared at the man. So this is the infamous Chad. The man really didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘No’. The man was still trying to encourage Arthur to give up his ready-made plans and got to the party with him.
“Excuse me,” said Merlin angrily. “Let go of my boyfriend.”
Chad looked at Merlin in shock and Merlin had no doubt Arthur’s face mirrored his. Playing the role, Merlin stood next to Arthur protectively.
“What?” said Chad.
“I’m his boyfriend, mate, and I would like for you to get your grubby hands off him.”
“Arthur never said anything about a boyfriend.”
“That’s Mr. Pendragon to you, and he doesn’t have to talk about his personal life with you. You’re an employee, not a friend.” He turned to Arthur, taking the man’s hand in his. “Come on, love. Mum’s waiting.”
He led Arthur out of the building and toward the parking garage. As soon as they were in the car, Arthur let out a relieved laugh.
“Merlin, that was awesome!” he said. “I’ve been trying to get him off my back for months.”
“Why hasn’t Morgana fired him yet?” asked Merlin.
“She’s looking for someone new right now, but after today, I don’t think she’ll let him off.”
Arthur was still smiling when he drove out of the parking lot. When Merlin called Arthur his boyfriend, his heart skipped a beat, but knew that it was only to get Chad off his back, which he was grateful for. A part of him hoped that someday, Merlin would say he was his boyfriend for real, but knew it wouldn’t come true.
They drove through the city toward Hunith’s house, singing Christmas song to the radio, and spoke of their day. When they arrived at Hunith’s Gwen, Will, Elyan, Gwaine, and Percival was already there. Arthur parked in the already cramped driveway and they walked in.
“Merlin,” said Hunith, going up to great her son. “My boy.”
“Hi, Mum,” said Merlin hugging her back. “Where’s everyone?”
“Lance is coming and so are Morgana and Leon,” said Will.
“All right,” said Merlin moving to walk in.
“Don’t you dare,” said Gwen smiling.
“What?” asked Arthur.
Gwen pointed above and both looked up to see a clove of mistletoe hanging above them. Merlin felt a blush spread across his face and saw that Arthur was getting one as well. He looked at Gwen pleadingly. She shook her head.
“You’re not leaving that spot until you kiss,” she said.
Merlin sighed and turned to Arthur.
“Well, you heard her, and once Gwen makes up her mind, nothing…”
Merlin was cut off when a pair of lips landed on his. Merlin froze in surprise as Arthur kissed him before returning it. It was different from the last time they kissed. That one had been about passion and lust, this one was tender, sweet, and, dare he think it, loving. For a moment, he did pretend that Arthur loved him. That it wasn’t because the reason was because of stupid mistletoe.
Remembering that fact, Merlin pulled away and quickly hanging his jacket in the coat closet. He didn’t see Gwen put away her phone with a sweet smile. Instead he went to the tree to set his presents under it. He saw Gwen eye them giddily and smiled at her.
“You’ll have to wait.”
“Oh, come on, Merlin, just a hint?” she asked.
“No,” he said with a laugh.
The rest of the friends arrive shortly after and the party began. They all gathered around the table and passed around the food, talking about their plans for the next day and the New Years.
“What about you, Arthur,” asked Hunith after everyone else. Morgana had just announced that she and Leon were going to spend it with Leon’s parents in the country. “What are you doing for Christmas?”
“I was thinking of just staying in,” said Arthur. “Don’t have to march over to Dad’s anymore for the yearly lecture on how to be a good son.”
“Nonsense, you’ll spend it with Merlin and me.”
“I am?” said Arthur.
“He will,” said Merlin.
“Of course. No one should be alone on Christmas.”
That ended the argument. As soon as dinner was over, they went to the tree and passed out presents. Everyone loved the presents from Merlin and Merlin loved the presents he got from them.
“Uh, here, Arthur,” he said handing Arthur a CD.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“A song,” he said. “A new one.”
Smiling, Arthur went to the CD player and placed the disk in the reader. He pressed play and everyone was silent as soft electric music played through the speaker.
When you feel all alone/And the world has turned its back on you/Give me a moment please to tame your wild wild heart/I know you feel like the walls are closing in on you/It's hard to find relief and people can be so cold/When darkness is upon your door and you feel like you can't take anymore
Let me be the one you call/If you jump I'll break your fall/Lift you up and fly away with you into the night/If you need to fall apart/I can mend a broken heart/If you need to crash then crash and burn/You're not alone
Everyone was silent as the music played and they listened as Merlin’s voice sung. There were more than few tears as the song played and ended. When the song ended, Hunith went over and hugged her son.
“That’s my boy,” she said.
“Thanks, Merlin,” said Arthur, carefully putting the disk back in the case. “I love it. Now I won’t feel so silly giving you this.”
He handed Merlin a small box. It was wrapped in only a simple bow. Merlin carefully pulled it off and opened the box. Inside was a necklace with a blue guitar pick pendant. On the pick was a black dragon emblem.
“Thank you, Arthur,” said Merlin lifting it out of the box.
“It’s nothing fancy,” said Arthur. “I just…”
“Arthur, it’s perfect.” Merlin gave him a reassuring smile and slipped it over his head. “Thank you.”
Arthur smiled and settled next to Merlin on the couch. The rest of the gifts were passed and opened and Hunith brought out her husband’s old guitar.
“Mum…” said Merlin looking at it in surprise and sadness.
“It’s tradition, Merlin,” she said. “And I know your hand’s not ready to pick a guitar, so Arthur’s going to do it instead.”
“Arthur?” Merlin looked at the man in surprise as his mother handed him the guitar.
“You’re not the only one who can play a guitar,” said Arthur tuning the guitar and started playing ‘The Christmas Song’. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
“Naruto singing off key,” said Merlin and everyone started to laugh. Arthur played again.
“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
“Two Sebastian Michealis cakes,” said Will and Merlin said his line. Arthur played the first line again.
“Three Pikachus,” said Gwaine and shrugged. “It was all I could think of.”
They laughed. Will and Merlin said their line. Arthur played the refrain again.
“Four Deathscythe Hell,” he said. They went back around and Gwen spoke the next verse.
“Five Shikon Jewel Shards,” she said. Lancelot spoke next after they went back around.
“Six Kurikara,” he said.
“Seven Celestial Warriors,” said Percival after they went back around.
“Eight Kumagoro,” said Merlin and giggled.
“Nine Millennium Silver Crystals,” said Morgana.
“Ten Tensiega,” said Elyan.
“Eleven Ninja Stars,” said Arthur.
“Twelve Zodiac Signs,” said Leon.
“And Naruto singing off key,” said Merlin, finishing the song, holding the note for a full minute before stopping.
They sung a few more carols before Hunith stood.
“Come, everyone,” she said. “Time for church.”
Gwaine groaned and Hunith slapped him over the head.
“Show some respect, boy,” she said and went to get her coat. Gwaine put a hand to the back of his head and rub.
“Ow,” he said softly. Everyone laughed.
“Come on, you big baby,” said Percival standing up. Gwaine and the others followed him. Arthur took Merlin’s arm to hold him back.
“Merlin, about your present,” said Arthur.
“I love it, Arthur. Don’t worry.” He picked the guitar pick off his chest and looked at it. “I know why you got it, Arthur. I understand, and I’ll try. That’s a promise.”
Arthur smiled, reassured by Merlin’s promise, and they joined their friends at the cars.
As you can guess, I got a little silly with this one. I make no excuses ;p