It’s one of those stifling July days when everyone in London forgets how to breathe, and prays for a thunderstorm. It could be worse, at least from Putney Bridge he can take the District Line. Thank God he doesn’t live in Clapham any more, because can you imagine what it must be like on the Northern Line today? Urgh.
Arthur leaves it late to come home; the tube is less uncomfortable after nine. So when he gets home, his flat-mate Gwen’s already back. She wrenches the door open, and glares at him accusingly.
“What?” he says, sighing. It’s been a hell of a day, he can do without getting the evil eye for yet another housekeeping transgression. “Did I leave the loo seat up again or something?”
“Your bloody friends!” says Gwen, frowning and tapping her foot on the wood floor. “They’re making a hell of a din, and they’re swearing like bloody fishwives. I’ve got Dad with me and he’s a sensitive guy.”
“What friends?” Arthur can’t remember inviting anyone round.
“I don’t bloody know, do I? One of them sounds like an Aussie… Just—can you all just bugger off down the pub or something? I mean, I’m no prude but… I reckon they’ve been at the sauce already Arthur, OK?”
Puzzled, Arthur strides across the living room to his bedroom and pauses outside. He can hear voices, it’s true.
“Do you fuck on first dates?” one of them is saying, in a strong Australian accent.
There’s a pause before the reply comes. “Will’s got a fat fucking arse,” it says.
“Merlin takes it up the shitter,” says a third voice.
Wincing at the crude phraseology, and mentally taking note of the fact that there must be at least three robustly articulate men in his room, God only knows who and why, not to mention how the fuck they all got in, Arthur tentatively gently pushes open the door.
“Erm… excuse me?” he says. But looking round the room he can’t see a soul. “What the fuck?”
“What the fuck?” repeats one of the voices, the one he’s dubbed “Will” in his head, which had made crude observations about someone called Merlin’s sexual preferences. It sounds like it’s coming from Arthur’s open wardrobe.
Arthur steps towards the wardrobe door when he hears another voice, the one he’s mentally referring to as Merlin, which had taken the piss out of Will’s arse, also coming from inside. “Fuck off, Will, you giant knob end,” it says, conversationally. “Don’t fuck with destiny.” There’s a loud wolf-whistle.
What? There's no fucking way that three grown, burly men could all squeeze into Arthur's tiny wardrobe. No, there’s only one plausible explanation for this, and he’s already rehearsing the many agonising ways in which he’s going to kill Morgana, who must have planted some kind of recording device in there, presumably in retaliation for that incident with the Scotch Bonnet chile, which really wasn’t his fault.
Wrenching open the door, he’s not sure who’s more surprised: him, or the large African Grey parrot which flaps out with a squawk, flies three times round Arthur’s head, and comes to rest on his bedframe.
“Oi! Santa Claus, you cunt!” shrieks the parrot, wings spread wide, back to the broad Australian voice Arthur’d heard first. “Where’s me fucken’ bike?”
Arthur can’t help it. He bursts into hysterical laughter, eyeing the open window where surely the parrot had made an entrance into his room.
“Killy wants a fucking peanut,” says the parrot, cocking its head on one side and fixing Arthur with an intelligent-looking gaze. “Knob cheese! Knob cheese! Don’t fuck with destiny!”
“You complete idiot, Gwaine. For Christ’s sake, Kilgarrah’s an intelligent bird, you can’t just leave the window wide open like that.”
“Look, I’m sorry Merlin, but I’ve only lived here a week. How was I to know that he could open his cage from the inside?”
Merlin sighs, raking his hands through his hair, trying to tamp down the irrational tears that threaten to spill into his pint. He knows it’s not really Gwaine’s fault, but Kilgarrah’s been missing for two whole days now. It’s stupid, he knows, but he bloody loves that foul-mouthed bird. Quite apart from anything else, it insults him in Will’s voice.
A warm hand on his shoulder steadies him. “I’m so sorry, mate,” says Gwaine, and Merlin knows he’s not just talking about the fucking parrot.
Merlin nods, desperately trying to control his breathing. “S’ all right, mate,” he says eventually in a thick voice. “We’ll get him back, right?”
“Right you are,” says Gwaine, tossing back the dregs of his beer. “In the meantime, let me buy you another pint to make up for it. Same again?”
“Yeah, ok,” says Merlin. But when he adds “And some dry-roasted peanuts,” he hears Kilgarrah saying “Killy wants a fucking peanut” in Will’s voice in his head, and feels his eyes blurring again.
Idly flipping through the free Classified ads on PutneySW15.com, while Gwaine gets the beers in, his eyes are drawn to an advertisement that makes a sudden hope surge through his veins.
“FOUND: African Grey Parrot.”
Clicking on the link, he groans when he suddenly loses reception on his phone. Bloody hell. He’s in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, and he’s got no sodding mobile phone reception. He watches the “busy” dial spin forlornly while he waits, and he’s still staring at it when Gwaine plonks his pint down in front of him.
“What’s up, mate?” says Gwaine.
Of course, the phone chooses that moment to connect, and Merlin crows in delight. “Yes!” He slides the phone across to Gwaine for him to read the text that accompanies the ad.
There’s an email address and a phone number. Merlin doesn’t see any point in wasting time; he dials the number and sits, heart pounding, waiting for a reply.
Calls himself Killy. Free to Merlin and Will. Come and collect him quickly because to be honest my flat mate has fallen in love with him, and is threatening kidnap. Beware, she doesn’t do anything by half. Arthur.
“Hello!” says a posh sounding voice, but it’s not that which makes an incredulous smile spread around Merlin’s features; it’s the sound, in the background, of someone sounding remarkably like his dear old friend Will, who’s been dead this six months, saying “Don’t fuck with destiny! Arthur likes skinny boys! Killy wants a fucken peanut! Knob cheese, knob cheese!
It would be a lie to say that Arthur doesn’t like what he sees on the doorstep. Two blokes – both looking fit, although the second one’s a bit scruffily dressed. The first one – he isn’t sure yet whether it’s Merlin or Will – steps forward and looks him up and down, grinning brazenly.
“Well, hell-o handsome!” he says, flicking his perfectly coiffed hair from his eyes and holding out a hand.
Disappointed that he doesn’t recognise the guy’s voice, Arthur shakes it. “Hello,” he says. “I’m Arthur. You must be...erm... Will…?”
The guy laughs. “No, I’m Gwaine. Will’s… well, anyway, I’m here for his parrot.”
“Nah,” says Arthur, smirking as he looks Gwaine up and down and concludes that he has a mighty fine physique. “My flat mate won’t let me give him away to just anyone, you know.” He allows a hint of flirtatiousness into his voice.
That’s when the other guy finally steps forward. Arthur hadn’t looked twice at him until now, but when he smiles and looks up shyly at Arthur through a fan of sooty lashes, Arthur feels suddenly giddy. In his head bells ring, birds sing and an orchestra full of sentimental string players starts playing Rachmaninov.
Bloody hell. Cheekbones or what? And eyes. Ears, too. The bloke has ears. And a mouth! Lips! Sod it, the bloke has a whole fucking face. Shit.
“I’m Merlin,” the second bloke says in a quiet voice. “I – erm. Well. Killy’s my parrot. And Will’s. Or at least, he was Will’s. And now he’s mine. If Kilgarrah can ever be said to belong to anyone.” He smiles again, and Arthur's heart does flip flops, because, holy crap! Dimples! Plus, there, finally is a voice he recognises.
Merlin reaches out, and Arthur shakes his hand, swallowing and snatching his hand away quickly. Fuck! That tingles!
At that moment he hears a distant, raucous squawk. “Rwwwrk!” says Killy, somewhere in the depths of his flat. “Merlin takes it up the shitter! Arthur likes skinny boys! Don’t fuck with destiny!”
Arthur can’t help bursting out into hysterical laughter, compounded by the way that Merlin blushes so prettily in response to this statement. Killy has only been with them two days, but he’s already demonstrated his brilliant sense of timing on more than one occasion.
“You’d better come in!” says Arthur, stepping into the flat. “No need to stand on ceremony. I feel like I know you already—well, aspects of you, anyway. Killy’s told me a lot about you.”
“Don’t tell me,” says Merlin with a low chuckle. “You know all about my sexual preferences but nothing about what I do for a living?”
“Pretty much,” says Arthur, laughter bubbling up in his throat.
"That's Killy for you!" says Merlin with a shrug.
“Here's the kitchen," says Arthur. God, he sounds like a fucking estate agent. "Erm... Make yourselves at home; there’s the kettle, there’s tea in this cupboard. I’ll go and fetch Killy. He‘s probably hiding in my wardrobe. Gwen—my flat mate—brought back all sorts of parrot-y accoutrements when she took him to the vets yesterday, but apparently he’s most comfortable hiding among my clothes.”
Wondering fleetingly whether the two guys are in a relationship, he walks slowly to his room so as not to alarm the parrot.
“Killy?” he says softly, clicking and whistling. He feels like a bit of a tit, but at least no-one's listening except the parrot.
There’s an obstinate silence.
“Killy? Merlin’s here!”
Arthur sighs, and asks himself whether it’s possible that Killy’s spent so much time in Morgana’s company over the past two days that some of her irritating stubbornness is rubbing off on the benighted bird.
There’s one phrase that’s usually guaranteed to elicit a response.
“Killy want a fucking peanut?” Arthur growls, gently pulling the door of his wardrobe open.
It’s only when he hears a stifled laugh that he realises that someone has been following him. Looking round to see that it’s Merlin, Arthur blushes when he thinks about some of the stupid undignified noises he's been making.
“Killy wants a fuckin’ peanut!” says the bird, eyeing them haughtily.
Arthur’s going to have to invest in a whole load of new suits, because Armani doesn’t take kindly to being shredded by beaks and claws, and there’s an unpleasant stench of guano emanating from the old newspapers he’s put down on the wardrobe floor, but for some strange reason he feels a pang of loss as he tries to coax Killy out.
Before Arthur can say anything, Merlin’s bending over in front of him, and holding out a gloved hand, and he’s crooning and clicking soothingly.
Killy obligingly crawls onto it, and Arthur can’t help it, his eyes are out on stalks, because, God, Merlin’s arse is swaying enticingly back and forth in front of his eyes. It’s a very fine arse, and he gulps when he remembers what Killy said about it.
“You naughty bird!” Merlin’s saying, as he straightens up, fondly ruffling Killy’s feathers. Killy gives his finger a playful nip. “God, I was so worried about you.”
“Such an old woman, Merlin,” says Killy in what Arthur now knows must be Will’s voice. “Double-jointed arse. Knob cheese!”
The sigh that Merlin lets out then is almost a sob, and his voice sounds suspiciously thick when he says: “I’ve missed you, you rude old sod.”
“Don’t fuck with destiny!” says Kilgarrah. “Do you fuck on first dates?”
“Right you are,” says Gwaine, sipping his tea. “I get the deal, now. No leaving the window open, even though it’s like a fucking furnace in this house, because your bird is an escape artist. David Blaine eat your bloody heart out.”
“Rrroawk! Knob cheese!” Killy’s in his cage, hiding behind his toys and happily munching his way through a bowl of nuts and fruit.
“I’m really sorry, Gwaine,” says Merlin. He can’t help feeling guilty at imposing such unreasonable restrictions on his mate, who’s having a tough enough time of it already, without having to live in a furnace with only an evil-minded parrot for company. “But I couldn’t bear it if he got out again.”
Luckily that blond geezer, Arthur, the bloody gorgeous one who looked like his jaw had been hewn from granite, who’d found him last time, had looked after Killy all right. There’s no guarantee that people will do that, these days.
He’d been a decent bloke, Arthur.
All right, more than just decent.
Out of Merlin’s league of course. Although it’s funny, he could have sworn for a moment that Arthur had been flirting with him. But what would a fit, handsome bloke like Arthur want to do with a jobbing landscape gardener anyway?
“Don’t fuck with destiny,” says Killy. “Arthur likes skinny boys. Rrroark!”
God, sometimes he thinks that bloody parrot is telepathic.
Gwaine smiles wanly at him. “I don’t mind really. I mean – it’s good of you to let me stay here for a bit while Mithian… well, you know. It won’t be too long. Hopefully, anyway...” His voice trails off and he looks uncharacteristically anxious for a moment.
Nodding, and getting up to put his cup in the sink, Merlin clamps a hand on Gwaine’s shoulder. “She just needs a bit of time, Mate. She’ll come round.” He turns when he gets to the door. “Oh, and don’t forget. Killy hates being left alone. He really hates it. It’s too quiet. If you have to go out, just put some of Will’s music on—Killy likes Kevin Bloody Wilson.” He grabs a banana for his lunch box and puts his hand to the door handle. “It was Will’s favourite.”
“I fucking hate bananas,” says Killy in Will’s voice. “Don’t fuck with destiny! Knob cheese. Piss flaps. Beef curtains. Knob cheese.”
God, Merlin’s glad to have him back.
It’s weird how quickly someone can get under your skin. He’s only seen that Merlin guy once, for ten minutes, but the connection was raw and immediate, and now it distracts Arthur at the oddest moments. Like now, for example. He’s standing waiting for the westbound District Line platform announcement at Earl’s Court, browsing the sports section of his crumpled copy of the Evening Standard, when he sees a picture of a footballer with black hair, bending to pick up the ball. Immediately his thoughts turn to the mental picture he has, seared on his retina, of Merlin bent forward to coax his parrot out of Arthur’s wardrobe.
He’s beginning to get hard. What’s that all about?
He sighs, loosening his collar and tie. It’s still suffocatingly hot; his shirt is drenched with sweat, and there are what the announcer euphemistically calls “minor delays” on the District Line, so when, finally, a Wimbledon-bound train arrives he’s jostling up against a very smelly, middle-aged bloke with dandruff. Rather than suffer the stench all the way to East Putney he decides to alight at Putney Bridge and get a bit of air, crossing the river. By the time he’s half way across he’s regretting this decision, because he’s trodden in a dog turd, been cursed at by the Big Issue seller, and deafened by the blaring siren of a passing police car.
What with one thing and another – his father’s bitter phone call, setbacks in the case he’s been working on — it’s been a shitty day. But he still can’t get Merlin out of his head.
It’s late when he gets home, and Gwen’s out at her boyfriend’s, so he toes off his smelly shoes and heads straight to his bedroom for a refreshing wank. Propping the window open for some air, he tosses his sweat-soaked shirt into the linen pile and sinks, naked, onto his bed with a groan, closing his eyes as he palms his crotch.
It’s a fast and furious one, because he’s been tense and on edge for days, ever since he gave back that potty-mouthed parrot. He imagines grasping Merlin’s enticing rump, imagines leaving fingerprint bruises on pale, taut buttocks as he drags his cock across Merlin’s furl, imagines Merlin whimpering and gasping at his touch. When he comes Merlin’s name’s on his lips.
He has the fright of his life when his voice echoes back to him, seemingly from the not-quite-closed wardrobe. With a sinking feeling, he pads over and gently tugs at the door.
“Fuck, yeah, Merlin!” says Kilgarrah, head on one side. “Oh…oh,” he adds, moaning in a pretty convincing parody of Arthur’s voice in the throes of an epic orgasm.
Arthur’s mouth gapes open and instinctively he grabs a shirt to cover his nudity. “Killy? What the fuck?”
“I’ve had an absolute cunt of a day,” says the parrot. The Australian accent is back in force.
Chuckling, despite himself, Arthur reaches for his phone and searches for Merlin’s number. At first he’s not sure whether to be furious or grateful, but when that quiet, sonorous voice answers the phone he plumps for the latter.
“Merlin, I’ve got your bird,” he says.
“Oh, thank God. I’ll be right there! Don’t… just don’t let him… just keep him in there, OK? Don’t even move! I’ll be as quick as I can. I’m in Richmond at the moment but I’ll be right there, I swear.”
“Don’t fuck with destiny!” agrees Kilgarrah, in Arthur’s voice. “Fuck, yeah, Merlin. Oh…oh…”
Arthur hears a quiet chuckle at the end of the phone, and his face burns.
Most of the time Merlin loves his job, he really does. But on days like this, when the van’s broken down, so he has to get the tube, and suffer the glares of smartly dressed commuters when he accidentally treads on their feet in his mud-caked wellies, are not what he lives for.
With all the hot weather they’ve been having recently, there’s not much he can do with the plants apart from watering and weeding, but he’s had a commission from a wealthy Russian down Barnes way to put in decking and a hot tub, and now that he’s accepted it he’s getting a bit antsy about transport. You can’t do a decking job without a van. So he’s dispatched Gwaine to get the van fixed, and gone to today’s job—garden maintenance for a rich, melancholy Richmond widow—on his own, which means working twice as hard.
To cap it all, when he rocks up to Richmond station, filthy and stinking after a good day’s honest labour, there are “minor delays” on the District Line. He gives up and goes to wait for the 337 bus. They should be every 15 minutes, but he’s just missed one, and he’s got a crick in his neck from lugging all his equipment about.
And fuck it all if that isn’t when Gwaine calls him, prefacing his confession with “Look, I don’t think your bird likes me, mate. He starts singing ‘Mick, me mate, the master farter,’ whenever I walk into the room.”
Sighing, Merlin pinches the top of his nose. “And you are calling me now, to tell me this, because…?” There may be some truth in Gwaine’s statement. African Greys do develop strong likes and dislikes towards people, and Killy’s been acting a bit off ever since Gwaine moved in, but surely he must be getting used to him by now?
“Well… erm… I’m not sure how to put this but… he’s buggered off again. Killy, I mean… he’s fucked off. Disappeared.”
Bloody hell, not again. “For fuck’s sake!” Merlin yells into the phone. “You’re a bloody menace, Gwaine. What the fuck don’t you understand about keeping the window closed?” His eyes start to prickle, and it’s not just because of the heat, dust and pollen.
“I swear I closed it,” says Gwaine in apologetic tones. “I have no clue how he managed it, but I reckon he’s worked out how to open the window by himself. You’re going to have to get new, lockable windows, mate.”
He’s still swearing when his phone rings a second time, and he’s just about to yell more obscenities into the phone when he looks at the screen.
What the fuck? For a second his heart starts to beat faster, because the gorgeous Arthur is calling him. A wild hope sets his pulse racing: maybe he’s going to ask Merlin out? But he snuffs it out, because there’s no way a gorgeous, posh City boy like Arthur is going to ask out a chav like Merlin. Quelling his irrational optimism with a couple of deep breaths, Merlin answers the phone.
“I’ve got your bird,” says a hoarse voice. Arthur sounds like he’s been gargling with nails.
Merlin’s so relieved that he doesn’t know what he’s saying when he gabbles into the phone, but he can’t help laughing in relief when he hears Kilgarrah wolf-whistling lewdly in the background.
“Don’t fuck with destiny!” he’s saying now. Killy’s always been an excellent mimic, and he seems to have got Arthur’s voice down pat.
“Fuck yeah,” Killy adds, and then he moans. “Merlin! Oh…oh!”
Even second hand, down the phone via a parrot, that moan has the power to grab Merlin’s libido and tug it firmly.
Oh God, what did Killy interrupt?
“Erm,” says Arthur, voice like gravel. “I’ll just… well, I was just. When Killy erm... Okay. Look. If you want to pick him up this evening that’s fine. I mean. Fuck. Ow! Killy, no, that’s my phone. Killy bring it ba…”
Arthur’s voice is cut off, which means that Killy’s managed to grab the phone and fly off with it – one of his favourite tricks.
“I’ve had an absolute cunt of a day,” says Killy in his Kevin Bloody Wilson voice into Arthur’s phone, and then the call ends abruptly.
Sometimes Merlin thinks Killy might be telepathic.
It's all very distracting, the way that Merlin’s pulse is pounding in his ears, and his blood is surging to his face, and also to his dick, as he replays that X-rated, Arthur’s-voice moan in his head. How can his blood be in so many places at once?
So surely he can be forgiven for not noticing the sound of a bus’s engine until it’s too late. Looking up, he stops the call, curses and starts to run after the 337, coming to an abrupt halt when his hoe falls, clattering, to the ground. By the time he’s picked it up, the bus has gone.
Clock watching doesn’t help time to pass, especially when you’re trying to coax a reluctant parrot from where he’s made a comfortable hiding place, amidst your old sports gear and assorted odd socks, at the bottom of your wardrobe. It could be worse; at least Arthur’s managed to retrieve his mobile phone, and the screen is only slightly scratched.
“Hey, Killy!” croons Arthur, clicking and murmuring. He holds out a bowl with some food scraps on it. “Want some fruit?”
“I fuckin’ hate bananas,” says Killy. “Merlin takes it up the shitter.” He wolf-whistles and makes a passable imitation of Arthur’s ring tone. “Knob cheese! Wanker! Fuck, yeah, Merlin. Oh…oh…”
For fuck’s sake, Arthur’s blushing. At a bloody parrot, of all things. He checks his watch again. How long will it take Merlin to get there? He fights off the urge to call him and find out about his progress and kneels down with a sigh.
“Will you come out of there, when Merlin gets here, Killy?” he says, softly. “Because I really don’t want to have to censor my speech in my own bedroom, mate.” What the fuck is he doing, negotiating with a bloody bird? He must be off his rocker.
Letting out a huff, he props open his wardrobe, but closes the window, despite the stifling heat. Maybe Killy will come out if left to his own devices. To avoid checking his watch again, he goes back to the kitchen and grabs a cold bottle of Stella out of the fridge, and sits chuckling in front of an old episode of Red Dwarf.
When, eventually, the doorbell goes, he buzzes the entry-phone to let in a flustered-looking Merlin with tousled, damp hair.
“So sorry I’m late,” Merlin says, all ruffled and pink-cheeked, talking very fast as he steps over the threshold. “I was in bloody Richmond, and I missed the bus, then when I got home I had to change out of my smelly work clobber and have a shower, then Gwaine was there and I needed to find out how Killy got out, and I came as quick as I could, I hope Killy didn’t interrupt anything…”
Why, yes, he did interrupt something, Arthur can’t help thinking. Can’t you remember? You were acting in a filthy, private porno, in my head, and Killy must have flown in just when your tight, skinny arse clenched around my jerking dick.
Despite himself, Arthur can feel the hot, shameful flush that creeps up his features from his neck to the tips of his ears.
Luckily, Merlin’s still talking, so maybe he doesn’t notice. “I really don’t understand it, it’s not really Gwaine’s fault. I mean, ever since Will… Killy’s always been intelligent, but he’s been more mischievous than ever, I think he was really unsettled when Will… anyway. You must be knackered, it’s really late. Fuck, were you in bed already? I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right, I’m not tired,” lies Arthur, smiling. “Let’s see if we can tempt him out of my wardrobe.”
But this time, Kilgarrah’s uncooperative. Talkative, too. The two men kneel outside Arthur’s wardrobe, employing all the clicks, croons and whistles in their combined vocabularies, but Killy just shuffles from leg to leg, cracking his beak, and making increasingly X-rated statements.
“C’mon, Killy. I’ve got new peanuts for you!” says Arthur ingratiatingly.
“I fuckin’ hate bananas,”
“Aww, Killy, don’t be like that,” says Merlin. “Look, we can listen to Kevin Bloody Wilson when we get home.”
“Don’t fuck with destiny,” he says, from deep within Arthur’s old Arsenal hoodie, imitating Arthur’s voice as he fixes Arthur with a beady eye. “Merlin takes it up the shitter. Arthur likes skinny boys. Fuck, yeah, Merlin. Oh…oh…!”
The men exchange a look. Arthur reckons Merlin’s nearly as red faced as he is. By silent mutual agreement they leave the room and retreat to the kitchen, leaving the door open in case Killy decides to emerge.
They sit in awkward silence, avoiding meeting each other’s eyes for a while. Arthur casts around for safe topics. By safe, he means anything other than Killy’s new-found ability to gasp out Merlin’s name in ecstasy, in something that sounds remarkably like Arthur’s voice.
“So,” he says. “Erm. Will…? Is he still…”
“Will?” says Merlin. “Erm. Yeah, he was my best mate. You know? Loyal, straight, stubborn, with a gobby streak a mile wide. I always knew his big mouth would get him in trouble. I was right, of course. Wandsworth has got some dodgy pubs, and he opened his gob one too many times. So yeah, he’s dead now. Stupid fuck.” He chuckles mirthlessly, scraping at the label on his beer bottle.
Arthur starts, to break up the silence. “Fuck. I didn’t mean to…”
“He was one of those…” Merlin says at the same time. “…oh. No, you go on.”
“…no, go on!”
They exchange wry glances and burst out laughing.
“Shit,” says Arthur. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay,” says Merlin. “Will was my mate, and he died in a fight. It’s okay. Really. I miss him, but you don’t have to tiptoe around it. It’s okay.”
Nodding, and clinking their beer bottles together, Arthur feels a little more comfortable. They sip, and chat companionably about how they’re going to persuade Killy out.
“I hope there’s nothing expensive in there,” says Merlin.
“No, it’s okay actually, the suits are still at the cleaners after last time,” says Arthur. “All he’s got in there is mouldy old sports kit, unpaired socks. I doubt if he can cause much damage to my old fencing clothes.”
“Oh I don’t know,” says Merlin, solemnly. “Killy’s very fond of Kevlar. It’s his favourite.” His eyes are momentarily serious and then he breaks out into a shit-eating grin and punches Arthur on the arm. “Gotcha!”
“You wanker! I thought you meant it?” Arthur’s laughing so hard he snorts into his beer. “So… Gwaine’s not your boyfriend, then?”
“Boyfriend? Aren’t you presuming something about me there?” says Merlin with an upwards tilt of one eyebrow.
“Are you saying you’re straight?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Good.” Arthur’s feeling reckless. What’s he got to lose? When that benighted parrot finally crawls out of his pit, Merlin’ll walk out of his kitchen and out of his life forever. Suddenly he wants to do everything in his power to prevent that. “So. Gwaine?”
Merlin laughs, and swigs the last sip out of his bottle. “I’m single. Gwaine… Is straight, and staying with me temporarily while he grovels to his girlfriend about his domestic misdemeanour.”
“Which was?” Trying to avoid grinning in triumph, Arthur gets up to grab another bottle from the fridge, lid hissing as he twists it off. He passes it to Merlin and grabs another one for himself.
“Ah,” says Merlin with a smirk. “A night out that went… erm… wrong. Horribly wrong. The new carpet still shows the stains, apparently. She’ll come round eventually. She always does.”
“Oh my God! I don’t think I want to know any details.”
“You really don’t…” Merlin shakes his head, and they exchange a loaded look. The silence stretches to seconds.
“Why do you think Killy keep coming back here?” says Arthur.
Merlin shrugs. “It’s very comfy in his wardrobe, but he’s a funny old bird. Sometimes I think… no you’re going to think I’m being stupid,” he says, tilting back his head to take a swig of his beer.
“Probably. But you might as well tell me anyway.”
“Prat.” Merlin punches his arm again. “All right. I wondered… Do you suppose… could it be… the wily old bird is trying to be a match maker?”
“Wow. Ahem. Well,” says Arthur, with a wry grin. He looks him up and down, appraisingly, eyes lingering on Merlin’s mouth where it frames the neck of his bottle. “Well if he is, I have to say… I mean, I can’t say I’m disappointed with his selection.”
“Really?” Lowering the bottle to bite his lip, Merlin returns his gaze. “You don’t think I’m a little… earthy for you?”
Mouth quirking up on one side, Arthur shakes his head. “Nope.”
Merlin's hand whispers across the table and grasps Arthur's firmly.
"That's good," he says quietly. "That's very fucking good."
Arthur leans forward across the table, and the angle is really awkward, he can only just reach if he rises into a sort of crouch, which is really uncomfortable.
But his mouth, oh God, Merlin’s mouth, those plush lips, so soft and full on his. They taste of Stella Artois as they part to allow him to deepen the kiss, and they erase all Arthur’s earlier hesitancy and humiliation.
The two men break apart after a moment or two, eyeing one another questioningly.
“Well, now,” says Arthur, softly. “There’s a thing.” He stands, tugging Merlin to his feet so that they’re face to face. Within the space of a thought they’re pressed up against each other, panting, hot and hard.
A loud wolf-whistle interrupts this gratifying development.
Clearly Killy’s finally emerged from his den and crept into the kitchen while they were otherwise occupied.
“Swapping spits! Fucking finally!Don't fuck with destiny," Killy says. "Do you fuck on first dates?”