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Missed Connections (Glory, Glory, Holelelujah)

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<3<3<3

Merlin crept down the hallway, willing the ground to stop spinning. His head pounded, a dull but persistent throb that begged for tea and a quick death. He wanted nothing more than to curl up and press a cool flannel against his face--currently, however, he was too busy dealing with more pressing issues.

"Will," Merlin whispered frantically at the mound of duvet covers that was his flatmate.

"Feck off quick."

Merlin whimpered at Will's appalling decibel and nervously looked back at the door before clutching at whatever part of Will was nearest to him and shaking it in desperation.

"Will, I need you to dig deep here, mate."

Blurry and haggard eyes emerged from the side of the duvet. Merlin tried to look as pathetic as humanly possible.

"Again?" Will asked, in a tone that belied not only his disbelief, but his amusement.

Merlin rubbed his forehead where the pain in his head was pooling. "Yes, Will, again. Now can we please mock me later?"

"He's that fugly?"

Merlin flopped down on the bed, his elbows digging into what he hoped were Will's vital organs. He continued to massage his forehead as if he could physically rub the shame away. "Honestly, I didn't check. I just fled as soon as I figured out there were two people in the bed."

"You, my friend, are a tart. An alcoholic tart without a spine," Will accused as he shuffled out of bed and towards the door.

Merlin just moaned in agreement and thanks. Soon there would be muffled voices and slamming doors and possibly indignant cries from all parties, and Merlin would hide, face flushed in absolute embarrassment, as Will showed his latest drunken mistake to the door. He would vow to never, ever get drunk and take people home with him again. It was an old routine.

It was only when he heard a final door shut and Will's familiar laughter that Merlin did emerge from his hiding place and into the small kitchen of their flat. Will was already busy with the kettle, and Merlin sighed, contemplating breakfast and just how much teasing he could endure.

"He was actually quite fit, Merlin. You might have wanted to keep him around," Will commented idly, his tone teasing and beyond irritating.

"Bugger off," Merlin said into his hands, feeling the need to press his face against the cool breakfast bar.

"Really though," Will continued, as he pulled mugs and tea bags from the cupboards. "Your plastered pulling is getting better. I remember when all your shags were complete bollocks."

"I want to die."

Will laughed, and Merlin felt his own face pull into a half-smile. Recapping the night was half the fun of going out.

"Was he really fit?" Merlin heard himself asking.

"Wouldn't lie to you, mate. You know how much pleasure I get from you shagging ugly blokes."

Merlin groaned. "You do take an abnormal pleasure in my pain."

"Earl grey or spearmint?"

Merlin lifted his head to glare. Will had a shit-eating grin on his face and was waving the spearmint tea canister around like a loon. Merlin sluggishly lifted two fingers in salute.

Will laughed. "One would think you'd be more agreeable after a shag."

"As if I can remember the majority of the shagging--Christ, why didn't you stop me from taking those Jager shots?" Merlin groaned, his head suddenly feeling heavy again. His distinct lack of self-preservation when he was drinking was astonishing. He was like that bird back in the Dinos age that did stupid shit all the time and ended up extinct from sheer idiocy.

"Plus," Merlin went on, ignoring the comparison to extinct birds his mind just made, "fit shag aside, I'm pretty sure I've lost my wallet and keys--"

"Nope," Will interrupted as he slid a steaming mug towards Merlin. "They're in the loo."

"Okay, well, in that case I've only lost my memories and my dignity," Merlin said before blowing at his tea as petulantly as possible. Will leaned against the counter and sipped at his own, Merlin was sure, disgustingly milky tea.

"Dignity is overrated."

Merlin scoffed. "Says you! Why can't my life be normal? Why can't I just shag people and drink separately, like a normal person?"

"Merlin, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're an adult novel writer--a flamingly gay porn writer--and you can move objects with your fucking mind," Will said bluntly. "Not to mention that your cat, your cat, Merlin, it talks. There is nothing normal about you. You're like every cliché sci-fi telly program, except you have bigger ears and you're… you know, too obscene for the Beeb."

Merlin frowned. Nothing Will had said was particularly untrue, but his flatmate had a way with words that set out to destroy tact--and Merlin's life, with it. Maybe dignity was overrated.

"Have I told you that I loathe you today?"

Will grinned. "You might have mentioned it."

"Speaking of my cat, have you seen Kilgharrah?"

"Not for days," Will said, a scowl gracing his features. "I'm surprised it has gone so long without attempting to murder me."

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Kilgharrah has never tried to murder you."

"Lies. I can't believe you stand up for that malicious beast."

"Grey cats with white paws can't be malicious, Will. Kilgharrah is too cute to be anything but... cute."

"How can you say that?" Will flailed as he talked, using the spoon that held his tea bag down to make a point. "You've had him since you were wee. He's unnaturally long lived, and he spends most of his time insulting me or speaking in bloody riddles. And no matter what you choose to believe, he's tried to end me."

"I'm way too hungover to fight about Kilgharrah."

Will huffed. "Fine. Breakfast?"

"Might as well give it a go."

<3<3<3

"What the ever-loving FUCK?"

Merlin looked up from his seat on the couch, pen poised over his notebook, with Kilgharrah warming his toes. Will was standing in the doorway, trying to glare at Merlin with his eyes closed. Again.

"What?"

"Merlin, for fuck's sake! There's gay porn on the sitting room telly! I can't even look at you to tell you off proper," Will said, and flailed his arms in a rather alarming manner. Merlin blushed and scrambled to turn the television off, which now seemed extremely loud. Merlin blushed and worried the neighbors might have heard through the thin walls.

"Sorry," Merlin said as Will unwound his scarf, this time with his eyes open, and hung it on the coat rack. "I have writer's block."

"I thought your deadline was extended," Will murmured while he battled with getting his coat off. His sleeve was tangled.

"You can't extend one's destiny, you simpleton," Kilgharrah purred out in disdain. Merlin gave him a look that hopefully translated how not the time it was to aggravate Will, which the cat was peculiarly talented at.

Merlin flung himself off the couch instead, and moved to help Will with his coat. He tried not to sound petulant, but the message Morgana had left him scared him.

"Morgana called. She said there was a change of plans. The magazine wants a short story before the month is out," Merlin said as he finally freed Will from the confines of his coat. It was damp with rain, and Merlin took it from Will's hands, using his magic to dry the heavy fabric.

"Thanks," Will said with a smile. "That's right rotten luck, mate. Did she yell when she called, or just use her sexy but stern voice?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Your obsession with my terrifying editor is disturbing."

"Says the bloke who watches gay porn and fucking transcribes scenes to cure his writer's block." Will moved into the kitchen but Merlin didn't follow. He settled back onto the couch instead, stroking Kilgharrah behind the ears.

All joking aside, two weeks wasn't enough time to get something prepared for publication, not with his writer's block and Morgana breathing down his neck. Not to mention, he had yet to write anything more for his novel or collection of short stories. Nothing was ready for a magazine preview or a series installment. He was doomed to forever live in squalor because he couldn't meet a damn deadline. And if being poor weren't enough of a hardship, not being able to find someone he wanted to shag or wanted to shag him sober was certainly a depressing enough fact.

Merlin was working himself in a state when Will popped his head out of the kitchen.

"Tea or booze?"

Merlin laughed. "Tea. It's not bad enough to be drinking before noon just yet."

"That's the spirit, lad!"

<3<3<3

Two days later, Merlin had lost his optimistic attitude and was wishing the flat had booze. He had already burned two notebooks full of uninspired, clinical, and absolute shit writing. He had spent the morning poking the ashes of his writing journals that he'd set on fire with a flick of his wrist, but now had moved on to reading Sylvia Plath and contemplating sticking his head into the oven. He had tried every conventional method to unblocking himself, and several of his own tried and true methods, with no luck. It didn't help that Kilgharrah had taken to puttering around the house, rambling on about coins and Merlin's fate to be joined by some magical force. It was all rather unsettling and very uninspiring. In all honesty, it was driving him to drink.

"I thought you said you weren't panicking yet?"

Merlin didn't lift his head at Will's voice. He wasn't close to panicking yet, and Will knew that. He was just wallowing, and that was several steps before panic. Panic involved watching Youtube videos of Justin Bieber and researching becoming a hermit. The last severe writer's block Merlin had gone through left him with a full library of books on knitting, a half-finished scarf and a scar on Will's ankle from a rogue knitting needle. Writer's block was not funny.

"I called Gwen. You have five hours to make yourself fit for public consumption," Will said, and then he patted Merlin's head a little rougher than necessary, and disappeared down the hall.

"Christ, it's no wonder I think alcohol is the answer, with you around," Merlin called after him, but it lacked heat. He hadn't gone clubbing since his writer's block attacked, and it had helped before to get the words flowing.

Plus, maybe he was thinking too hard. Merlin toed the ashes of his notebook in thought. It wouldn't be the first time he had let his mind get in the way. He'd almost ruined his friendship with Will after Will had found out about the magic, and all the over-analyzing and the martyrdom had been the culprit then. Gwen had been hurt too, due to Merlin's over-thinking after they had gotten so close, and freaked Merlin out with her endless kindness. He had wanted to tell her about his magic, but had pushed her away instead because the guilt of not telling her was overwhelming. How anyone could hurt Gwen and not hate themselves afterwards was beyond him. She still didn't know, but they had fallen back into the same pattern of friendship as before Merlin's big 'I'm a colossal liar and no one is allowed to love me' freak out.

He owed Gwen so much. She was Morgana's personal assistant and was set to be an editor someday, but if it weren't for Gwen, Merlin would have never got in with Morgana to begin with. Gwen slipping one of his short stories into Morgana's inbox had been the beginning of his career--his dream career. Well, besides a life as a trophy husband, but considering his track record with men, that particular career aspiration looked dim.

The clock ticked past three, and Merlin found himself surprisingly calm and maybe even a bit excited for the evening to come.

<3<3<3

"You get writer's block more than any writer I know," Gwen said around a mouthful of na'an. Merlin pouted.

"Careful there Gwen, he's a gentle poofter. Sensitive and all that rot," Will jested from the arm chair. Merlin was sorely tempted to throw a pillow at him, but he didn't want to risk upturning any of the numerous Indian take-away boxes. He settled for sticking his tongue out and stealing the last of the na'an, only to have Gwen steal it out of his hands with a sharp click of her tongue.

"No garlic na'an for you, young man. No one will want to bed you, and we all know what happens to your writing when someone rejects you," she chastised.

"What? Gwen! That's not fair," Merlin whined. Will just grinned and stole the piece out of Gwen's hands. It looked almost as if she was going to go for it, but Will smirked and licked the bread from one end to the other, wiggling his tongue for effect.

"God, you're such a prat!"

Will just shrugged a shoulder in reply before stuffing half the bread into his mouth. Gwen shuddered in disgust.

"You two are such a married couple," Merlin added. "I hope your heterosexuality doesn't rub off on me and permanently mar my writing."

Merlin gave them a very serious face before all three of them dissolved into laughter.

The end of dinner had them all brushing their teeth and rinsing out the last traces of their meal with mouthwash. Then it was off to pick outfits, Merlin consulting Gwen for what looked sexy and not twinkish ("I'm a writer." "Oh, please. You write porn. It's beautiful and thought-provoking, but still porn, love."), and Will consulting both Merlin and Gwen on what looked the least gay. Will was a trooper when it came to going to gay clubs, and if he weren't so obsessed with Morgana's vagina, Merlin would wonder about his orientation. As it was, Merlin spent half the time laughing as Kilgharrah muttered insulting comments about Will, which Gwen thought Merlin had said, and led to Merlin collapsing in laughter and shooing the feisty cat away. Not that Kilgharrah listened to anyone other than himself. Merlin was sure that the blasted thing just enjoyed the sound of his own voice.

Eventually, tight black jeans paired with a white t-shirt and vest made their way onto Merlin's body with minimal protest ("Shut up or I'll put you in fishnets and cut off denims." "But Gwen--" "Daisy fucking Dukes is what I believe the Americans call them.") Will was mismatched and thoroughly straight-looking by the time they were crammed onto the Underground with the rest of the Saturday night crowd.

"That last shot burned," Merlin complained. He could already feel the buzz of the alcohol fogging up his brain and generally eating its way into his integrity. He didn't understand how his body still lacked tolerance when he drank as often as he did. They were currently passing a flask back and forth on the train, Gwen beside him and Will across the way. Merlin was experiencing déjà vu. The scene was startlingly familiar and foreboding.

"I told you tequila would have been better," Gwen muttered. She sounded distracted, though, as she shifted to laugh at Will, who was busy hitting on a lady out of his league. Merlin shook his head and felt the night take a very frightening turn.

"Do you think Tracks will be too crowded?" Merlin asked with a shrug. Gwen paused to think, her head tilted as she considered Merlin's question. Merlin held his breath. Gwen and Will loved Tracks because it catered to a straight crowd while still managing not to piss off the gays. Merlin preferred Camelot, because the men were hotter and he got secret pleasure out of Gwen making out with lesbians. It was his gay calling to turn Gwen into a dyke; he just hadn't figured out how to do it yet. He'd enlist Morgana if she hadn't the reputation for using her vagina and magical breasts for nefarious purposes.

"Tracks has some stupid theme tonight and the cover will be atrocious," Gwen said. "Let's head to Camelot instead."

Merlin nodded and tried to conceal his joy. Across the train, Will got slapped by the gorgeous woman, and Gwen and Merlin collapsed in laughter; there was a sheepish, shocked look on Will's face that fooled neither of them.

"Bitch probably deserved it," Merlin said, trying to wipe away the tears from laughing too hard without smearing his eyeliner. Gwen nodded beside him, waving and pointing at Will, who was making a point of leering in their direction and scratching his balls rather lewdly.

"Tenner says this night is a disaster," Merlin said causally as the train rumbled through another stop.

Gwen grinned, evil, and shook the flask in his face.

"Absolutely! Now, I haven't got another chaser, so--"

Will appeared at her side. "So you'll have to nut up, Merlin, because no one wants to hear your fairy arse complain."

The pair giggled, and Merlin glared before he yanked the flask out of her hands and took two gulps, holding his breath and waiting for the burn of cheap vodka that tasted more like rubbing alcohol to stop eviscerating his throat.

"Mate, your shot face is so ugly," Will said. "It's a wonder you ever get laid."

"Let's go," Gwen said, effectively cutting off Merlin's response to Will's cheek, and dragged them both off the tube.

As predicted, the queue as they passed Tracks was out of control, each person waiting sporting a more ridiculous costume than the next. They giggled past, Will managing to offend as many females as possible. Gwen took to the flask with renewed gusto. Pre-gaming was a necessary endeavor for the poor, considering the bars were over-priced. If only there were gay pubs where drinks were served in pint glasses and what tasted like piss was priced cheaply. But that wasn't to be so--and although it took some sacrificing of his wallet, Merlin wasn't sure he could get a shag without frilly cocktails, dodgy lighting and copious amounts of glitter. All in all, it was really neither here nor there about gay pubs.

"Merlin, do you want the last?" Gwen asked, the flask poised at her lips. Merlin shook his head and watched as Gwen drank gracefully, her slender throat working down the alcohol. Not for the first time, Merlin wished he wanted to do more than admire Gwen. She'd be perfect if he weren't tragically gay, and at this point in his life, he certainly was tragic.

The queue to get in at Camelot was much more manageable, and if Edwin had been working the door, the trio would have got in straight away, considering the doorman's crush on Merlin. But a fellow no one recognized was working security, so they set up to wait. Behind them, two twinks were talking rapidly and with much enthusiasm.

"I fucking swear, Owain. He was here," the taller of the blonds said.

"You're taking the piss! You obviously were hallucinating. Did you snort that much blow that you were hallucinating Price Arthur of Albion? Because that's both pathetic and an achievement of club boys across the UK," the shorter but quieter of the two shot back.

"You're a prick, Owain. I know a royal arse when I see one," the other said, and then their conversation turned less interesting so Merlin stopped eavesdropping.

"I told you, mate!" Will nudged his shoulder. "I told you I thought I saw that prince around here."

Merlin shook his head, moving up in the queue and trying to convey Will's insanity in one look. They had had this argument before.

"Will, need I remind you that Prince Arthur plays for your team?"

"Not if you follow gossip mags," Gwen interjected. "And I know you do, so don't try and deny it."

"Gwen, just because he isn't publicly affectionate doesn't mean he's a fag. It means he's royalty and isn't a tart for the paps," Merlin finished, with a flick of his wrist in a spectacularly effeminate motion that made him feel drunker than he thought he was.

"Merlin, I know you fancy blokes and all, but you can't imagine how hard it is to believe that Prince Arthur wouldn't want to touch Sophia," Will said with a leer and a rather lewd hand gesture. "I mean, I know she's a little crazy and all--"

"A little?" Merlin's voice crackled with disbelief. "She tried to kill him. That bitch is cray-cray."

"Who cares? She's got a rack I just want to rub my face against," Will said, as they finally reach the top of the queue to show the bouncer their IDs. "No legitimately straight man would keep their hands off a woman like Sophia. Crazy or no."

The three entered the club laughing, Will looking at them in a way that made it clear that he wasn't joking for the most part. The club itself was buzzing with people in various states of undress and drunkenness. The lighting was dark, and colored strobes hit Merlin's face as he fought his way towards the bar. Heavy bass was thrumming throughout the floor, and a popular song blared, remixed beyond recognition, on the speakers. It was as typically club-like as any club could get, although the amount of beautiful men writhing on the dance floor was encouragingly original.

"Dear Christ on a cracker," Merlin heard himself say aloud as the bar came into view and the most beautiful man to ever have walked the earth was pouring a shot. He was an Adonis, and the lights playing off his deeply tan skin looked gorgeously natural. His hair was rich in color and curling at the base of his neck like a lover's caress. Merlin's eyes couldn't help but trace the bartender's arms at least three times--they were sculpted perfection, and Merlin wanted nothing more than to divide the rest of his life between licking the man's biceps and stubbled jaw line.

"Oi! You two are drooling," Will yelled at them, his brow furrowed and his eyes threatening to roll in exasperation.

"He's--" Gwen started.

"My muse!" Merlin finished for her. "Look at those--"

"Biceps, I know. I think I just came a little in my knickers," Gwen murmured beside him as they both watched the lovely bartender laugh, his head thrown back in joy, exposing the strong tendons in his neck and his prominent Adam's apple.

"You guys are disgusting," Will continued to yell over the music, but Merlin could barely hear him over the roar of unparalleled lust in his ears.

It was only when the bartender disappeared into the back did Merlin regain control of his higher brain function. "Who was that?"

"I don't know, but I can't wait to find out," Gwen said and grabbed Merlin's hand to pull him towards the bar.

"I want to drink expensive liquor from his bum." Merlin blushed, turning to see if Gwen had heard him. She was staring blankly back at him. There was an awkward pause as Gwen made eye contact and processed Merlin's outlandish statement.

"Me too, Merlin. Me too," she said with a blush of her own.

"Alright, I'm staging a bloody intervention!" Will yelled before he turned abruptly and pulled the nearest bartender to him to yell into their ear. Will made strange hand gestures that Merlin tried to follow, but whatever Will was ordering or doing was beyond him. He was tempted to use magic to follow the conversation, but public drunkenness and intentional magic were probably not a good combination. Finally, Will nodded twice and trudged back to Merlin and Gwen, who, much to Merlin's embarrassment, were still clutching each other's hands.

"Gwen, just your luck tonight! Pretty boy bartender is straight as an arrow," Will yelled into their ears. Merlin's heart sank at an alarming rate. "Merlin, don't pout, you look absurd. Gwen, collect our drinks from pretty boy. I'm taking Merlin to the floor."

Merlin felt his body being pulled by Will and back into the crowd of people as Gwen did her best cod impression at the bar. Merlin was still wallowing in despair when they hit the dance floor at full speed, but the bar was mostly obscured by then and that made him feel marginally better. Well, that and the vague dream of Gwen marrying the Adonis of a bartender and Merlin demanding naked photos in apology, in addition to an increase in Merlin's unannounced visits to Gwen's flat... in the nude.

Merlin shot one last pathetic glare towards the bar before Will smacked him across the arm, and Merlin committed himself to getting royally pissed out of his mind and dancing until some bloke made a generous offer. Will continued to ply Merlin with shots, and it wasn't until the third shot did Gwen reappear. Merlin ignored her, turning to dance with a bloke who looked like Tony Blair in drag. He severely hoped she got the message.

"Don't be like that, darling." Gwen yelled apologetically into his ear. Merlin didn't turn. He wasn't done being mad at the universe yet. "I brought you presents!"

Merlin sighed and flipped his ugly dance partner two fingers as he went to pull away to face Gwen, and got his crotch grabbed in return. What was happening to queers these days? No respect for decorum.

"What presents?" Merlin tried to look put out, but his smile crept up on him at the high flush on Gwen's cheeks.

Gwen grinned and dug into her pocket, pulling out a white pill with a coke bottle stamped on it. Merlin's own smile burst out a little manically when Gwen placed two pills on her tongue and winked. Merlin immediately pressed their lips together, chasing the bitter-tasting pill around Gwen's mouth, their mouths open and sloppy in an obscene kiss, until his tongue curled around his share of the drugs. He swallowed twice, eyes closed in blissful anticipation. When he opened them, she was grinning shyly at him.

"What's my other present?"

Gwen pulled him until they were dancing closely, her hand pressing a scrap of receipt into his hand. Lance was scribbled in barely legible writing, with an equally smeared 11-digit number next to it.

"Shut up!" Merlin yelled in excitement before hugging her a little too hard. "Let's do shots!"

They fought their way back to the bar and Merlin watched as Gwen grinned manically at Lance, who still looked fucking edible if anyone wanted to know, and Merlin suffered through the cow eyes he made at Gwen, only because she was awesome and Merlin needed another drink. If there was anyone in the world that deserved a Greek god between their legs, it was Gwen. Plus, Lance was apparently in school to be a doctor or to save the world--some really humanitarian rot that kind of dulled Merlin's boner for the hot bartender. Merlin was all for saving the whales, but hippies gave him limp dick.

The second shot they took with Lance almost 25 minutes later signaled the ecstasy's effect in Merlin's body. Suddenly he was increasingly aware of the fact that Lance glowed a little in the lights, his skin vibrating with sexiness, and it was making him and Gwen drool a bit. Thankfully, like in many crisis situations in Merlin's life, they were saved from making complete fools of themselves by the power of Gaga.

"Rah rah, ra-ra-raa!"

Merlin snapped his head to Gwen, who had stopped drooling at Lance for a few seconds to stare at the buckets of glitter falling from the ceiling.

"Roma, ro-ma-maa!"

The pair finally met each other's eyes and screamed: "Gaga, ooh-la-laa!" And just as quickly as Lance appeared, he disappeared in a haze of Gaga, both Merlin and Gwen screaming the lyrics to each other and gyrating their way back to the dance floor.

Merlin was feeling blissed out and completely disconnected from his writer's block woes. Unfortunately, as delighted as he felt, he knew they would be heading home soon. They were too old to be staying until last call, even if it provided a brief walk in the sunrise. Plus, Gwen had to be at Morgana's at half twelve. No one was entirely sure when Will had to make an appearance at work, but the fact remained that if Merlin was going to find a shag then it needed to be soon.

The tail end of Kesha's ‘Tik Tok’ provided a second shower of glitter. Merlin laughed, feeling the soft flecks on his skin in such specific detail he felt as if he could take them all home and name them, each glitter speck at a time. Gwen was nearby, dancing with two drag queens who were obviously enchanted by her bright smile and bouncing curls. How her hair looked that bouncy at arse-o'clock in the morning, after hours of dancing, Merlin would never understand. (Especially when his own hair was plastered to his forehead by sweat. Attractive.)

He pushed away from the young man he was lazily grinding his hips against and motioned as best as he could, blissed out as he was, to Gwen, trying to communicate his trip to the gent's room.

The loo was like every other club loo. There were urinals for pissing and stalls for fucking, and it was generally a very nasty area of the club. Surprisingly, it was rather quiet when Merlin finally made his way through the crowd, stopping once to touch a boy wearing blue, glittery hot pants on his way there. There were two guys taking a piss, and Merlin was fairly sure that the man in the first stall was wanking, which was rather sad when he thought about it. It wasn't nearly 2:30 in the morning--there was still time to drunkenly pick someone up and fuck them. There was no need to give up and have a solitary wank this early in the night.

Merlin felt flushed, his body temperature high and his skin heated from the drugs. He felt tired and yet strangely wired as he walked towards a urinal, only to change his mind halfway there and go for the last stall. He needed a seat, just for a while, to get his head on before he went back out into the crowded club. Maybe if he took a moment he wouldn't end up picking up an ugly bloke. Or a ginger.

The stall was covered in graffiti. Phrases like for a good time call Jack were paired with an arrow going from the person's name to phrases like DON'T. His dick is tiny. Other markings were just drawings: some were simple stick figures in compromising positions, while others were fairly elaborate in their depiction of a man on his knees walking after a man with his cock out. In fact, this picture continued, making its way from one side of the stall all the way to the other side. Merlin blinked from his seat atop the toilet seat as his gaze rested at what he imagined was the end of the pictures: a glory hole.

Merlin blinked slowly, the ends of his eyelashes sweeping against his cheeks in a way that honestly felt like he was in a slow motion part of a movie, but just confirmed the fact that the drugs Gwen had provided were strong.

At least, that was the story he was determined to stick to as he watched his own hand reach up to touch the carved-out hole in the stall. The edges were smooth and worn, as if the glory hole had been there for a long time and was in constant use. It was a silly thought, Merlin knew, because someone probably filed the edges. But the thought was still there, the image of hundreds of men before him pushing their cocks against the same surfaces, their hips thrusting into a willing stranger's mouth.

Merlin couldn't stop tracing the hole, his breath coming in small puffs of air as he moved to push his finger through the hole, imagining his finger were actually his cock.

Merlin was startled out of his daydream when something wet and hot engulfed his finger, tentatively sucking at the tip. It was only then that Merlin noticed a handkerchief spread out on the ground on the other side of the stall, where someone was kneeling on it. The gasp that escaped his mouth was completely involuntary as the person pulled back to lick, the tongue flicking at Merlin's fingertip and teeth scraping lightly at the bottom.

Merlin couldn't help but imagine if it were his cock and not his finger surrounded by the delicious heat of the mouth.

The mouth that was obviously begging to be fucked--a mouth that was asking for it, asking permission to suck Merlin's cock.

He would say later that he thought long and hard about it before he undid his trousers and searched for a condom, but in reality, Merlin was on his feet in seconds, pulling at his trousers and fumbling with a condom before the mouth could descend on his finger for a second time.

His cock slid along the bottom of the hole, pressing in a stuttering motion that made Merlin wish for lube. Which he really shouldn't do when he was this drunk and this high, because sometimes when he wished things, they happened--by themselves, because his magic was unruly. It was stupid and uncontrollable but so, oh so handy when he wished things on accident and suddenly, there was lube smoothing his first thrust into the hole.

Merlin paused, his pelvis flat against the cool stall, and waited. His breath sounded loud in the bathroom, the bass vibrating through the floor but the sound muffled. He leaned back, his shaking hands going to clasp the top of the stall as to steady himself. There wasn't any movement from the other side of the stall, and Merlin twitched as he recalled the tentative lick to his fingertip just moments before. He could feel the hot breath of the man on his knees and felt himself blush, knowing that someone was panting at the sight of his cock appearing through a hole in a loo. He was clearly insane, very high, and desperate.

However, it didn't stop Merlin from moaning loudly with the first tentative flick of the stranger's tongue. His hips twisted, his cock hypersensitive from the drugs and the thrill of exactly how filthy the situation was. It seemed that was all the encouragement the stranger needed because the second lick wasn't tentative at all. Merlin groaned, pressing his forehead against the stall as wet hot heat surrounded the tip of his cock and sucked lightly, the tongue dancing tight circles at the vein on the underside of his cock.

"Oh fuck yeah," Merlin moaned as his hips jerked, attempting to get more of that mouth around him. The answering moan from the stall, from the cocksucker, vibrated through his cock, shooting white hot pleasure up his spine and pooling in the bottom of his belly. The stranger moaned again and swallowed him to the root; the only part of his dick left untouched by wet heat was the base, where Merlin was straining to press his hips as close to the stall as possible.

Whoever this man was, he loved to suck dick. That much was apparent, and it pushed into Merlin's mind, the desperation of the man behind the stall, the want to suck cock so great that he would kneel in a dingy bathroom to get it. The thought--hell, the reality--was incredibly arousing.

The lips on him pulled back to tenderly mouth at the head. In fact, the kiss was sloppy and intimate in a way that made Merlin squirm. It was a kiss between lovers, slow and sweet, not a kiss between two people engaged in a club loo glory hole scene that was straight out of a bad porno.

Merlin focused on the sound of the man's open mouthed kisses on his cock, letting his own moans fall away to a hitching of his breath so he could listen more intently to the man on his knees. He couldn't help but notice the fact that the man didn't sound like he was jerking his own dick. There wasn't a single rustle of fabric, just the delicately filthy sounds of the man's mouth closing over the head of Merlin's condom-covered cock.

It was as if he were waiting for permission.

Merlin moaned aloud in a strangled way that he was sure to be ashamed of in sobriety, but he couldn't help it. The mouth was warm and soft around him, sucking him with short motions before pulling back to kiss the tip. It was erotic and intimate and by far the most emotionally-charged blow job he'd ever had. Even his magic felt hyper aware, vibrating just beneath the surface of his skin.

Granted, it might have just been the drugs.

"God, your mouth," Merlin managed to pant, moving his forehead to another cool spot on the stall, the buttons of his vest making small tinkering noises with each tiny thrust of his hips.

The stranger moaned in response, the vibrations contracting around Merlin's cock in a way that could only be described as heavenly. He was halfway sure that the heavens were shining. Or he was hallucinating. Whatever the case might have been, Merlin had no intention of stopping. He just wanted more, more of everything the stranger had to give him.

"So good," Merlin whispered as the man took him all the way down his throat again and moaned. The electric shock of how impossibly good the stranger's mouth felt around him was astonishing. "God, you love sucking cock, don't you?"

The only response was another groan and a caress to the tip of his dick when the man pulled back, his tongue laving at the head of Merlin's cock as if he wished he could taste him through the condom. The thought had Merlin cupping his balls and feeling wildly out of control.

"Touch yourself," Merlin whispered as the mouth on his cock paused again at the tip, sucking lightly but constantly in a maddening way. "Please touch yourself for me."

Despite being the one in control, Merlin felt wildly out of touch. He felt strangely devoted to the stranger in the stall next to him, as if he would give this man the world if he would just touch himself in return for the feedback loop of pleasure. As the thought passed through his mind, he was sure that the drugs were stronger than he thought but he just didn't care because his magic was jumping at the feel of the man's lips around his cock and the just the mere idea of the man jerking his cock in time with sucking Merlin's dick had the dangerous but intoxicating spark of magic coil hot and insistent in the base of his spine.

"Please," Merlin choked out, his voice desperate and ragged. "Please touch yourself."

The rustle of the bloke's trousers was unmistakable, and Merlin moaned, his grip on the top of the stall knuckle-white as the stranger's mouth pulled back. He could hear several ambiguous sounds, and he imagined the man was frantic to get at his own cock. Merlin paused to glance down at the part of the man he could see, strong thighs widening, before the mouth was back on his cock, sliding down all the way to the root and staying there.

"Fuckin' Christ," Merlin practically yelled as the man's lips tightened at the base of Merlin's cock, his tongue wiggling slightly against the bottom of Merlin's cock in the tight channel he had created with his mouth. It was fucking incredible, but Merlin needed movement, needed the slick slide of heat against his cock. "Come on, move."

There was no response from the stranger. Merlin gave a frustrated thrust, tiny in the movement of his hips, as he hissed 'get on with it'. That thrust earned him a moan from the stranger that was ridiculously loud, and the pieces slotted into place.

"Oh god, oh fuck," Merlin panted as he pressed his cheek to the stall. "You want me to fuck your mouth? Just fuck your face through this stall?"

He couldn't help but feel torn inside out with arousal when the stranger nodded around his cock and moaned. This was one of the hottest things that had ever happened to him. This was bloody incredible.

The first few thrusts were tentative, trying not to gag the man who was so submissively taking him. But then the man had sucked on Merlin's return, pulling at his cock in pure deliciousness that had Merlin slamming his hips back into the hole and down the man's throat without pause. There was a slight choking sound that had Merlin scrambling back, pleas of 'sorry' on the tip of his tongue, before they vanished as the stranger chased after his dick and moaned desperately around Merlin's spit slicked dick.

They developed a rhythm after that, Merlin slamming his body up against the stall as the stranger sucked as much as he could on Merlin's cock with the brutal pace they had set up. Merlin knew he was being loud, moaning and muttering filthy things through the stall, but it was glorious and his orgasm was just beyond him, teasing him every time the stranger sucked particularly hard or choked lightly around his cock, throat spasming around the head.

"Yes, yes--just take it, just like that," Merlin muttered, his hip bones practically pounding into the stall. He listened intently, waiting for any sign that the man on his knees was close to coming. "Come for me. God, come from my cock."

The speaking seemed to do it. Merlin heard a gargled noise as his cock hit the back of the man's throat, and Merlin watched desperately, prying his eyes open to see the man come in streaks on the floor of the loo. He seemed to come forever, the streaks painting the floor around his knees, the sticky globs clinging to the handkerchief on the ground.

The sight and sound of the stranger coming while gagging on Merlin's cock had him tumbling into orgasm as well, a strangled noise ripping out of his throat as his hips flew, riding out his orgasm.

When Merlin opened his eyes, his body felt tired and sated, but still vaguely wired in a way that only drugs could do. He pulled out of the hole, hissing as his sensitive cock brushed the sides of the glory hole. He peeled the soiled condom off and threw it in the toilet, still in awe of what had just happened. He did up his jeans as fast as he could, stopping only to clean himself with magic before he stepped out of his stall. The stall next to him was empty: the only evidence of the man who had sucked him off was the handkerchief, streaked with come, on the ground.

Merlin picked it up without a thought, whispering another hasty cleaning spell and stuffing it into his back pocket before he walked out the door with his cheeks flamed red in embarrassment.

Later, when he was back home and in the safety of his bed, waiting for his come down, he'd notice the dark blue handkerchief was adorned with an embroidered dragon in the corner. He drifted off to sleep with the vague stirrings of a story, his hands itching to write as sleep consumed him and his ideas ran their course through dreams.

<3<3<3

Merlin didn't stop writing for two days.

His hands ached, their positions over the keyboard making his forearms throb and his wrist twinge with pain, but he couldn't stop. It was as if the wall that had blocked him had come crashing down out of nowhere and the words came tumbling out of him without preamble. They felt almost forced out, wrenched from him in a violent act of purging. It was awful and wonderful, his mind caught somewhere between his story and the reality of the night in the club, warm lips and wet heat.

The story that unfurled on the screen was a twist on reality that left Merlin shaking, his eyes blurry from looking at the screen of his laptop for so long.

"Merlin?"

Merlin started out of his thoughts, jumping slightly at the nearness of Will's voice. Merlin looked up to see Will in the threshold of the door, cup of tea in his hand and looking vaguely scared.

"Mate, you know I love you, but you've got to stop writing and shower," Will said as he eased his way into the room, holding the cup in front of him like a shield. "You're starting to mold."

Merlin looked down at himself, still in his clothes from the club two days previous. There were cups of tea scattered about his desk, piled on top of each other, and now that he had stopped writing, he noticed he did smell rather putrid.

"I've been writing," was the only thing he could say. He blinked at his screen. The cursor mocked him. "I've just been writing."

"Clearly."

Merlin watched Will shut the laptop and set the tea on top of it. He was slowly becoming aware of his body again. It was strange. He had never written like that before, so completely engrossed as to forget himself.

"Merlin?"

Merlin looked up to find Will staring back at him, looking worried.

"I'm fine, Will."

Will arched an eyebrow and practically cocked his hip.

"I'm fine. I just, I got unblocked and..."

"Wrote like a maniac for going on two days?"

Merlin felt a blush coat his cheeks. "Yeah?"

"Are you telling me that your first glory hole experience unblocked you?"

Merlin was definitely bright red. He clutched at the cup of tea, letting it slosh over the rim and burn his fingers. God, it was so embarrassing, but it was true. There was something about that stranger, their experience so unbelievably intimate. Merlin couldn't get it out of his head, and it was doing wonders for his writing.

"Merlin, you are by far the gayest man I've ever met," Will said, nodded, and then left.

Merlin shook his head. How was this his life? Frantically writing porn, a short story that had potential to be a novel. A novel, inspired by an encounter with a stranger in a glory hole. It was unreal. It was as if he was a character in some of his early work. Not this one, though, this story was melodic and softly intimate that made Merlin raw in ways he didn't want to examine. Still, it was begging to be written, begging for more of him.

Merlin took a couple more sips of the tea. It was bitter and twiggy, just how he liked it. As much shit as Will gave him, Merlin knew he was secretly affectionate enough to over-brew Merlin's tea, even though Will thought it a traitorous habit towards the crown. He shook his head and put the cup down, before he grabbed a towel and headed to the shower.

Morgana was going to kill him. Flay him alive, in fact.

As he passed into the shower, he could swear he saw Kilgharrah smirking in the corner. They were probably in cahoots, Morgana and Kilgharrah. It seemed like exactly something that strange cat would be up to. Hell, he probably made phone calls during the day to conspire.

<3<3<3

Naturally, when Merlin finally gathered up the courage to phone Morgana, she was busy. In fact, she had taken an impromptu trip to Berlin.

"What the fuck is she doing there?" Merlin yelled into the phone as he hastily made another cup of tea.

"Some poncy writer is having some sort of existential crisis," Gwen replied. Merlin could hear her typing frantically and would bet a good deal of money that she had been putting out fires for Morgana all morning.

"And what is Morgana going to help with? She's not exactly comforting."

"I imagine she's going to try and shag the inspiration into him. Seems like that's been working for you," Gwen said slyly over the line. Merlin cursed. He could imagine her face now. The broad was smug when she wanted to be.

"Oi! Can we not talk about my sexual indiscretions?"

"Why, when you make it this easy to tease you? I mean, really, Merlin, a glory hole? What are you, a character out of your own stories now? It's such a gay cliché!"

Merlin rolled his eyes and poured the boiling water over the tea bag. "I don't think you're in a position to classify gay clichés here. Can we please talk about something else?"

"Bugger. I've got to go, I'm pretty sure Morgause is about to spontaneously combust over her new self help book without Morgana here to hold her hand."

"God," Merlin said in awe. "Who the fuck would take advice from that woman? She's insane."

"Tell me about it. I'll drop by after work?"

"Yeah," Merlin said with a sigh. "It's not like I'm going anywhere."

Gwen had hung up before he even finished his sentence. Merlin puttered around the kitchen, setting to cleaning the counters, and with a touch of magic, the dishes washed themselves. It was rather convenient, having a bit of magic at times like these when he needed to think--needed to do something mindless to take his focus off of his writing.

After his shower he sat down to outline the next section, only to draw a blank. The cursor blinked, mocking him in a way that reminded him of primary school. Children were cruel, and he had always been a bit unfortunate-looking.

"Patience, Merlin," Kilgharrah purred beneath him. "Great destinies come only to those who allow them to appear."

Merlin sighed again, patting Kilgharrah's head and ignoring his rambling. Merlin felt like his destiny was always to be plagued with writer's block and deadlines and Morgana yelling down phone lines or across desks. If that was a great destiny, then Merlin was quitting. He was tired.

Merlin drained his cup of tea and looked around the flat for anything else to do. His magic was itching, which in and of itself wasn't abnormal. When he struggled with a block, his magic always flared up and hovered just underneath his skin. It simmered and made him feel even more uncomfortable in his own body. It was as if it wanted something. It certainly had wanted that stranger in the loo; the way it had hummed and threatened to break through was wild.

Thinking of his magic as a being, without Merlin, was a scary thought. But he had the same thought the night at the club, with the stranger's open-mouthed kisses driving him mad; it had felt like his magic was longing for something. That feeling, of his magic twisting up and wanting, was partly the reason why Merlin couldn't get the encounter out of his head. It might have just been the drugs, but it had never happened before, not like that, not with someone--or for someone.

"I'm touched in the head," Merlin said aloud as he reorganized his bookshelf, books flying through the air with a few flicks of his wrist.

He would just have to wait until Will got home. Or Gwen got off. Or heaven forbid, Morgana got done with the writer in Berlin and helped him. Because if the block was back, he was still fucked.

<3<3<3

Two days later and he hadn't typed a single new word. He might have moved a comma, but for aesthetic purposes only. It seemed as if the flow he had before had completely deserted him, leaving him even further inside the slump of writer's block. At least before, he was churning out work that just wasn't quality writing. He was now at a sheer standstill.

And Morgana was still in Berlin, still not answering his calls, and Merlin was starting to panic.

"I am the best flatmate in the world," Will said as he slammed through the door of the flat. He was carrying a plastic bag and looked as if he was going to say something that would either offend Merlin or upset him. Either way, Merlin was in a fucking fragile state.

"You haven't done the dishes in two weeks and the shower drain is clogged from when you got drunk and shaved your leg hair," Merlin murmured.

Will looked up from where he was drinking straight from the milk carton and shrugged. "Mate, you've got magic. I'm not gonna go about cleaning if you can just look at it and it'll be done. Be reasonable."

"Right."

Merlin turned back to the book he was pretending to read. He had been trying to read earlier in the day, but it had just made him depressed. In the last half of the hour, he'd been just holding it and moping over the fact that he would never write again.

"Mate--" Will interrupted by snatching the book out of Merlin's hands and sitting down on the coffee table. Merlin made a desperate sort of sound but didn't struggle to get his book back. It was terrible anyhow.

"What do you want, Will?"

His flatmate just shook his head. He looked smug, as if he had hatched a successful plan to take over the world.

"You'll regret speaking to me that way once you've heard what I've got to say."

"Say it then," Merlin said wearily and sank back into the couch. Could he go to bed yet? Another day had got to be better than this one.

"I know the cure to your writer's block."

Merlin arched an eyebrow. "Oh, do tell."

"Don't get cheeky with me, Mr. Emrys. It's actually quite simple, you're just dim."

"This is helping already, I can tell," Merlin deadpanned. He could feel a headache starting between his eyes.

"Right. Listen, we were out at that club when your block left you."

"But it's back now, Will."

Will nodded and made an impatient gesture with his hand, as if Merlin had somehow morally offended him by interrupting. As if Will had morals.

"Listen, you tit. It's obvious you just need to go back and stick your dick in that glory hole and get some."

"Will, getting laid won't work. I fucked Cedric yesterday when I went out to get tea," Merlin countered. He had gone out to buy tea and seen Cedric at the market. They had dated on and off a year or so back, but nothing had really come of it. In the end, they went their separate ways, but that hadn't stopped the sex from being phenomenal or Cedric from being a complete and total cockslut. Who was Merlin to deny him a lay after they had run into each other?

"Well, obviously it didn't work because it wasn't the same bloke," Will said, in a tone that made it sound as it Merlin was an idiot.

"Will, I got sucked off in a glory hole. Anonymity is part of the deal. Plus, that's just preposterous."

Will frowned. "It's not, mate. You told me yourself how tingly you got--"

"My magic got tingly. My magic did, not me."

"You said tingly!"

"Stop saying tingly," Merlin hissed.

"Whatever. You got tingling. This bloke, whoever he is, has a mouth on him that literally sucks the words right out of you. You've got to go back."

Kilgharrah appeared out of nowhere, jumped up on the back of the couch and flicked his tail in Merlin's ear. "I agree with the imbecile. You should go, your magic is obviously telling you to do so. Don't defy what destiny is urging you to do."

Merlin rubbed at his forehead. "I wish I had never told you two that. Besides, it was probably just the drugs."

"Merlin," Will started, "you've got to a least give it a go. You're running out of options, and when Morgana gets back to find you've got nothing, she's going to have your balls with her afternoon tea."

Merlin cringed. Will was so eloquent, if not completely correct.

"Let's just say, hypothetically, that I think this isn't a completely worthless idea. How do I find him?"

"You best start where you first found him."

Merlin closed his eyes and wished the couch would just swallow him whole. Having these sorts of conversations with Will was painful. His entire life was painful.

"You think I should go back to the glory hole."

Merlin heard the coffee table squeak as Will got up and moved back into the kitchen, no doubt to drink the rest of the milk out of the carton like a barbarian. It amazed him how well they got along with their glaringly different personalities.

"As long as you wrap your dick, I'm not sure what could go wrong."

"Right."

<3<3<3

When Merlin finally had enough to drink to go into the loo, he couldn't help but be nervous. Beyond the fact that Will might be right and his writing career was hanging on being blown by a specific person that Merlin had never formally met--beyond all of that, going into the bathroom with the knowledge that you were anticipating a glory hole blow job was extremely awkward, if not a bit tense. Immediately, Merlin felt as if the other gentleman in the loo were watching him. Objectively, he knew that wasn't the case. Well, not in the-I-know-you're-going-to-the-glory-hole-stall sort of way, anyway. The bloke at the corner standing by the urinal and jacking off was certainly looking at Merlin. But everyone else was just doing their business. In fact, one couple seemed to be having sex in the first stall.

Surprisingly, this made Merlin feel loads better (because at least other people were doing scandalous things). None of them were probably as pathetic as he was, except for the guy wanking to blokes pissing, but Merlin was okay with that. He was used to being pathetic. He was a writer, and being pathetic was basically a skill to put on his CV.

Merlin went straight to the stall, practically running, he was sure, and locked it behind him. He made a quick check to see if anyone was occupying the stall next door before he sat down on the lid of the seat. He was startlingly aware of how loud the couple was on the other end of the bathroom and how loud he must have been when the stranger had taken him inside his mouth for, arguably, the best blow job of his life. It was awe-inspiring, that was for sure. But Merlin still wasn't convinced it just wasn't the drugs.

Besides, taking drugs and sleeping with people was an easy cure for writer's block. Finding the anonymous bloke who sucked you off in a bathroom and who carried around custom embroidered handkerchiefs was not as easy.

It would totally make sense though, because nothing, absolutely nothing Merlin did was easy. It was as if he strategically conspiring against himself. Although, it wouldn't surprise him if his magic was somehow trying to ruin his life. That was just how much luck he tended to have.

Time passed slowly in Camelot's loo. Merlin spent most of his time drawing on the walls with magic ink, letting his magic ebb and flow to make beautiful patterns on the walls for the sake of his sanity. It was more than mildly amusing and arousing to listen to the multitude of people stumbling in and out of the club. There were definitely more people using the loo as it was intended; however, Merlin was increasingly surprised at the sheer number of people who hooked up in the bathroom.

Camelot was like most gay clubs, and had a backroom specifically reserved for sexual acts and a condom stand the size of a small corner shop to the left of the bar. People didn't really need to hook up in the bathroom. There were other places. It was just amazing how many couples chose the loo instead of the backroom. Maybe it was the lighting? Merlin had no idea.

He was incredibly embarrassed at the amount of time he spent there, idly drawing on the stalls and closing his eyes, letting his magic pool around him and search. It was something he often did when he was bored and alone, let his magic roam free. It was rare that anything significantly awesome happened. Once, he accidentally traveled through time. Time travel, in and of itself, was amazing. But the resulting panic about how he was going to get back was enough for Merlin to swear off deliberately trying to time travel.

Today, his magic seemed to feel more comfortable feeling out people and searching for connections. Merlin thought that maybe this was his magic looking for another person with the same talents, like a magical signature. But so far, the only thing significant he had found was that an old lady on Baker's Street had a haunted oven that enjoyed spiking all her baked goods with marijuana, for the simple pleasure of hearing the old lady's knitting group get supremely high.

Part of Merlin wanted to meet someone like him, whom he could talk to about the feeling of magic coursing through one's veins. The other part of him wondered if there was any use getting his hopes up when it was doubtful that he was going to be anything but alone for the rest of his life. Well, he'd have Will, and Merlin wasn't trying to say that Will was incompatible, but he certainly wasn't life partner material. Plus, Merlin wanted to get laid every once and a while, maybe even fall into a routine with someone. It all seemed like a lost cause, because at the end of the day, he was still a penniless, gay writer with chronic writer's block, who may or may not be able to move objects with his mind. He wasn't that special. Not in any of the ways that counted. He wasn't smart like Will or charming like Gwen. He didn't possess any startling beauty like Lance, nor was he successful like Morgana, although Gwen had hinted once at Morgana's connections with the Royal Family and how that was how she got started with her own company.

Either way, at the end of the day he was just Merlin. And the end of the day put him in a seedy bathroom of a gay club, waiting for the love of his glory hole life. It was unreal and pitiful.

Merlin looked at his watch. The 3:30 a.m. blinked at him hazily, and Merlin rubbed his face. It was obvious that whomever he had met in the days previous wasn't coming anytime soon. Merlin was on his feet when he remembered the handkerchief in his trouser pocket. He pulled it out, examining the soft cotton of the blue fabric and running his fingertips over the red embroidered dragon in the corner. It was a rather beautiful handkerchief, and Merlin was sad to see it go. He had enjoyed the soft way it felt splaying across his cheek while he was writing, idly playing with it, and more than once he had jerked off to it caressing the sides of his dick, as if it were channeling its owner's mouth. It was silly to keep it now. It would only remind Merlin of those fleeting days of writing and the most amazingly intimate blow job of his entire life.

He laughed at himself before stuffing the cloth into the glory hole. Maybe if the man ever came back, he'd get his handkerchief back. It was rather nice, after all.

Merlin turned to go, then realized that he might as well piss while he was there to avoid an uncomfortable tube ride back. It was early in the morning and his buzz had all but disappeared, the alcohol running its course through his system. He was just zipping up his trousers when the handkerchief disappeared from its place in the stall's hole.

Merlin stared at the hole, suddenly feeling the urge to get the piece of cloth back. Whoever had taken it was obviously thinking something else, like someone had left it or Merlin left it as a sign that he was there, waiting to get a blow job from just anyone.

"Oh no, um," Merlin bumbled. "I'm actually going to want that back, see, I was waiting for someone in specific, and it doesn't seem like they're going to make it. So if you could just, you know, pass it back, that would be..."

Merlin trailed off, a blush working its way up his neck and coloring his face. God, this was the most embarrassing situation of his life. Nobody couldn't make this shit up but it was happening to Merlin. It was his life.

"Sir? Sorry, but I really do need that back," Merlin started again, waiting to hear some sort of acknowledgment from the other party, but none came. "I mean, sorry. This might seem rather weird, but I was leaving it for him and if he's not going to come, I would rather you not nick it while I'm here. At least give me the pretense of thinking it might have got back to him."

Merlin cringed at the way his voiced sounded, uncertain and whiney. He waited, thinking about just magicking the damn thing back when the person on the opposite side of the stall laid out the handkerchief and knelt. Merlin blushed even harder.

"Oh no, no. I'm not really into it, it was just the one time," Merlin said as his voice squeaked. "I'm not, I'm not really interested in it from anyone else."

There was a rough chuckle and Merlin blushed even harder, barely resisting the urge to bang his forehead against the wall, when a second handkerchief was passed through the hole. The fabric was the same soft cotton except it was red. Merlin turned it over in his hands, gasping as his fingertips ran over the dark blue embroidered dragon.

"It's you," Merlin whispered in awe. "I can't fucking believe it."

Merlin stared at the hole in shock. Had his luck finally changed? Had the universe decided to take pity on him? Had his magic finally saved him from his own misery? Merlin didn't care at that moment why or how this had come to happen, just that it was happening--that this was real. His fingers gravitated to the hole as his other hand clutched desperately to the new handkerchief that smelled of subtle but spicy cologne and a unique male smell that Merlin imagined came from being stuffed inside the pocket of the man on the other side of the stall. Merlin wondered if the only colors he had were red and blue. He thought about the soft linen being pressed and folded neatly in the man's closet. The domestic scene of the man's routine, always folding the handkerchief and putting into the same pocket was all fiction in his mind but it burned something warm in his chest when he imagined it. He fancied the red coloring too, almost as much as that first blue one.

His fingers traced the outside of the carefully carved hole before dipping in tentatively. Immediately, the mouth on the other side pressed a tiny, chaste kiss to his fingertips. Merlin felt himself sigh, sagging against the stall as the mouth kissed up and down his fingers before suckling at the tip.

Merlin felt his magic surge at the contact of the man's open mouth. He gasped aloud and pressed himself up against the stall divider, desperate to be closer to whoever was invoking such a strong reaction inside of him.

"I'm so glad you're here," Merlin whispered, as the mouth worked its way down the pads of his index and middle fingers. "I waited for a while but there was no hope that you'd be there. That you felt this."

His magic surged again and Merlin didn't have the energy or the heart to cage it, not when it was so freely jumping at the sensations of the other man, just like it had earlier when he was letting it roam free. The idea that his magic had brought the man here, had lured him there, was even more arousing, and Merlin moaned against the stall.

"You have no idea what you do to me," Merlin said, working his trousers open. The mouth around his fingers groaned and Merlin quickly took it as permission, getting the condom out of his back pocket and ripping it out one-handed. He didn't have the strength to pull his hand away.

"God, I could come just like this, with just my fingers in your mouth," Merlin murmured as the mouth worked up and down his fingers, sucking at the tips and swirling his tongue desperately along the pads of Merlin's fingers. It felt incredible, and Merlin began to think that maybe he'd given the drugs a little too much credit in the previous exchange.

"Can I... Can we?" Merlin stumbled over his questions, need filling him as he stroked his cock lightly. The mouth around his fingers moaned and then nodded, tongue flicking at the tips of his fingers in what felt like encouragement.

Merlin could barely get his cock through the hole fast enough, letting that warm, wet, and increasingly intimate heat surround him in pleasure. He let his magic go, riding the fast and deep pleasure of the man's mouth while Merlin clutched the new embroidered cloth in his hand.

<3<3<3

Merlin was in a daze all the way back to his flat.

He sat on the tube, gently turning the red handkerchief over and over in his hands. His fingernails dragged over the careful embroidery, and he barely resisted the urge to press the cloth against his face. The blow job had been even more incredible sober, which Merlin was having a terrible time wrapping his head around. He could still feel the phantom heat of the man's mouth and the open-mouthed kisses he placed up and down the shaft. The mere thought made his magic tingle.

Merlin averted his eyes and sunk more into himself.

It had been amazing, and afterwards he couldn't help but sink down to his own knees and whisper filthy phrases through the wall until the man came. They had stayed like that, kneeling on opposite ends of the stall, until Merlin stuck his fingers back through the hole, just to feel the way the mouth kissed, so open and raw and vulnerable.

God, and then Merlin had started talking, babbling really, about how much the man's mouth had inspired him, how this simple act of anonymous release had inspired two days of writing and that no one had ever done that before.

The man, gloriously wonderful thing that he was, just kept kissing Merlin's fingers. It was lovely. And in the end, Merlin had resorted to begging to see him again, just like this. The only way the man communicated was with moans and nods of his head. But Merlin had worked out that they could do this again in three days time.

Three days seemed endless, but Merlin's magic throbbed pleasantly. It felt satisfied in a way that Merlin had never felt before. He was slowly understanding how devoid it had felt earlier, how something was missing. It was a staggering thought that led in too many directions. At the moment, he just needed to get home and write, write until it left him again.

Then, then he could meditate more and figure out exactly what his magic was trying to tell him, what his magic was imploring him to explore.

<3<3<3

"I can't talk now."

Merlin blinked. "Gwen, you phoned me."

"I realize that. It was only to let you know that I'll be picking you up at 8 tonight. Wait outside."

Merlin stared at his blinking cursor. The flow of writing had left off sometime this morning, and he wasn't supposed to see the man from the loo (he really needed a better name than that for him) until tomorrow night. But there was really nothing to be done.

"...just wear Will's tux, it should be fine."

Merlin realized that Gwen had been talking. "What? Why?"

Gwen sighed. "Merlin, weren't you listening?"

"No. Not at all. Come again?"

"Morgana is going to be gone a few more days because she's decided to buy a tiger," Gwen said in a tone that implied that she wished she was joking.

"A tiger?"

"Yes, named Mordred apparently. Anyway, she's stuck trying to wrestle it through Germany's customs unit. You'd be amazed at how offended they are that she's trying to take a tiger back to England. Anyway, I'm supposed to go to this dinner in her place and I've got instructions to take you."

"Me? No, Gwen, I'm not going to one of Morgana's functions. Last time, she had me go to some sort of cancer benefit for gay men!" Merlin screeched. His face was flushed just remembering the evening.

"What was wrong with that?"

"Gwen, I spent the whole night getting hit on by men who made jokes about having one ball. Jokes, Gwen! About genitalia! In public!."

Merlin let the silence convey his complete and total embarrassment. Gwen stifled laughter across the line, the cow.

"All right, that's a fair point. But this isn't anything like that, it's a personal dinner."

"Bloody hell, we're going to be dining with some duchess or duke or something of the sort, aren't we?"

Merlin heard Gwen shout something that didn't pertain to him, and grimaced at her frazzled tone. It was a wonder she had survived so long. Morgana's office was busy when she was there to control the chaos of the most unruly and emotional dependent writers in the world. Merlin couldn't imagine what it was like in her absence.

"You're right. Look, I'm wiring money into your account. Buy a tux."

Merlin shrieked. "What? No! Gwen, no. Please don't, I don't need Morgana's pity--"

"Merlin, I've really got to run. See you at 8."

The line went dead.

Merlin took a deep breath and looked desperately at Kilgharrah, who was circling Will's newest jacket and pawing at it with his tiny, white feet. Surprisingly, the cat didn't seem to have anything to say. That alone made Merlin suspicious that Kilgharrah was enjoying Merlin's turmoil.

<3<3<3

Merlin twitched in front of the mirror in the hallway.

"I look like a monkey."

He tilted his head and adjusted his tie.

"Nah, monkeys don't wear suits," Will said helpfully from his perched on the back of the couch. Merlin sighed. He looked ridiculous.

"I look like a little kid in dress-up clothes."

"Little tikes don't wear five thousand pound suits."

Merlin blushed wildly. "God, I can't believe I spent that much money."

"S'okay. Wasn't yours, was it? Had to spend all of it on something or Morgana would take it out of your next book sales," Will said, his mouth full of apple.

"I know," Merlin said. He adjusted his striped black tie. He did like the tie quite a lot, even if it was a horrid amount of money. "But I just feel so uncomfortable. It's like, wearing money or some sort of rubbish."

"Mate, I hate to break it to you, but you are wearing money."

Merlin whimpered.

"Cheer up, at least the food will be posh."

Merlin resisted the temptation to bury his hands in his hair. Only the sheer amount of time it took to get it to lay flat reminded him that he should be wise to do something else with his frustration. Like set Will on fire and let Kilgharrah eat the remains.

"Best be on your way," Will said around another mouthful of half-chewed apple. "Morgana'll be off her knob if she found out you were late."

"Right."

Merlin turned away from the mirror to grab his wallet and made way for the door. He looked down again, straightening his suit jacket and breathing in deep breaths that did nothing to calm him. His shoes squeaked slightly as he rocked. They weren't half bad either, soft leather in two tones of white and black. They actually looked like they belonged to Fred Astaire, or some other charming film star. He hoped he didn't look too ridiculous.

"Here, take this for luck."

Merlin turned to Will, who was startlingly close. He held up the handkerchief, delicate embroidery showing through Will's fist.

"I'm not taking that."

"Oh, would you just shut your fucking gob," Will muttered as he stuffed the cloth into the breast pocket of Merlin's tux. "Get on with it."

"Right," Merlin said again, for what felt like the fiftieth time that night.

"I won't wait up," Will teased, his eyebrows dancing as Merlin turned and shut the door.

<3<3<3

"Tell me again why I'm here," Merlin said as he fidgeted in the soft bench seat of the town car they were riding in. He was so uncomfortable in the tux that he was sure that everyone was going to know he was just a lowly writer, another one of Morgana's latest minions, that he wouldn't even get to open his mouth and make a fool of himself.

Gwen, of course, looked stunning. Stunning enough that no one would question why she was there in Morgana's place, and they wouldn't even second-guess her clearly common name and even more common background. Merlin would stand out like a sore thumb.

"Merlin, I already told you, Morgana told me to take you," Gwen said as she stared at her Blackberry, scrolling through hundreds of emails and typing at the same time. Morgana had bought Merlin one when he first started working under her direction, but he couldn't figure it out. It was a damn future machine that had every intention of helping drive Merlin into insanity.

"But why did Morgana order you to take me?" Merlin was perfectly aware that he was whining, though he was beyond the point of caring. If he was going to have to sit around and be insulted in perfectly polite conversation for the rest of the night, he was going to get his whining over beforehand.

Gwen looked up from her phone. "Morgana said that nothing unblocked gay writers more than posh social events."

"That's absurd."

"She said that all the repressed but fairly blatant homosexuality would inspire you."

Merlin closed his eyes in utter despair. Morgana was an editor. She was not a writing assistant. She did not comfort writers beyond offering up her twat and magical breasts for inspiration. She ordered things to be written magnificently or she would lop something important off. Books were written underneath her tyranny, but they were not inspired.

"Will there be an open bar?"

Gwen threw a sympathetic glance in his direction before turning back to her phone.

"Tell me there's a bright side."

Gwen grinned. "Do you want Morgana's bright side or mine?"

"Save me," Merlin moaned and slumped in the seat. To hell with his suit being wrinkled; the night was going to be a disaster anyway. He had never been very good at divination-- well, that is to say that his magic had never been very good at divination, but his gut feeling was telling him that the night was going to be horrid whether he looked decent in a tux or not. (He didn't, for the record, and he was going to tell Morgana so when she returned.)

"Well, Morgana said all the gorgeous men would stimulate your writing. But she said it in that tone that meant she wasn't telling me something. So who the hell knows who will be showing up," Gwen said gleefully.

"Probably the bloody King of Albion, or worse, his son. Only Morgana would think the gossip mags wrote more than rubbish," Merlin muttered. "Do you think the actual Queen will be there?"

"I doubt it, Merlin. I doubt any real royalty will be there. I mean, you'd think I would have patched calls through to Morgana and known if she were related to true royalty."

Merlin nodded. Morgana always had rumors of royal ties floating around her, but Merlin had yet to see evidence. She did, however, speak to a lot of people in code, but Merlin thought that was just because she enjoyed being ridiculous.

"I'm sure it's just a bunch of no-name dukes, who, although disarmingly pretty, will be either completely straight or so far on the down low that even you won't be able to pick up their signal," Gwen continued.

"Did you just say 'down low' in all seriousness?"

"Spare me your indignation."

"I wish I were dead."

Gwen flashed a gorgeous smile his way, completely melting his insides and making him feel slightly better, despite his determination to be surly.

"Come on then, what's your good news? I know you're dying to tell me," Merlin teased, poking her thigh through her lavender gown.

Gwen blushed slightly, glancing at him quickly before going back to her Blackberry. "Lance is coming over for a movie after I get done here."

"You naughty slunt," Merlin exclaimed. His own grin had taken over his face in spite of his jealousy over Lance. There was no hating biology.

"Slunt?"

"Slut and cunt."

Gwen grimaced. "Right. I don't think my vocabulary is going to be the low point in the night."

"I can't wait to tell Morgana that you'd rather hang out with some common chav instead of royalty."

"Please," Gwen said slyly. "I've already sent her a picture. She has no qualms over my choices."

"You play dirty," Merlin said as the car slowed and his easy mood evaporated around him, replaced by his earlier anxiety.

"Ready?"

"Absolutely not," Merlin said firmly.

Gwen opened the door into the night and Merlin had no choice but to follow.

<3<3<3

Will was right: at least the food was expensive and delightful because the company was lacking. As per expectation, there was an enormous amount of people who considered themselves royalty, but whom Merlin had never heard of before. They were all dukes and duchesses, part of Parliament, or famous for an entirely different reason that still escaped Merlin. They were all dull and drab and politely insulting. Merlin was half certain that Morgana was buying a tiger just to get out of coming to the blasted affair. Or, she had some spy lurking in the corner and recording Merlin's pain just so she could cackle at him in her office later. It was no secret that Morgana relished in other people's tumultuous experiences. She was an editor. It was her job.

Merlin was so bored he had taken to changing the shape of the ice cubes in his glass and hoping that no one would notice the tiny flash of gold in his averted eyes. It was just a bit of magic, nothing too fancy as to draw attention to himself, but at least it was keeping him awake.

"And this is?"

Merlin looked up to see a small group of people staring at him. Gwen trod on his toe as gracefully as possible underneath the table. He felt a flush work up his neck.

"Merlin, erm, Merlin Emrys," he stuttered out. Everyone continued to look at him blankly, which Merlin took a sign to continue. "I'm a writer under Morgana."

Gwen thankfully jumped in, pressing in close to him. "Merlin is being modest, he's one of Miss Le Fay's best new writers."

No one looked impressed. Merlin tried a tiny smile, hopeful to look harmless and insignificant. It worked.

"Ms. Smith, please enlighten us to Miss Le Fay's whereabouts? I'm afraid we've rather lost touch as of late," a woman with shocking red hair and a twisted, unpleasant mouth said. Everyone turned to Gwen, and Merlin sat back, effectively out of the spotlight and happy to be ignored for the rest of the evening.

"Guests, Lady Helen hopes that you all have enjoyed your dinner," said a woman whose name may or may not have been Catrina, raising her glass. Everyone turned to pay attention to her. "Please join me in the ballroom."

Everyone clapped, and Merlin looked around as everyone started to get up and head toward two large French doors. Merlin took the time to pull close to Gwen.

"Please tell me we can leave now," Merlin whispered furiously. She looked irritated, but good-humored.

"Come on, let's go into the ballroom."

They both rose, scraping their chairs back. Merlin pretended that he wasn't clinging to Gwen's arm, and Gwen looked at him as if trying to calm a startled farm animal. Merlin hoped his glare imparted his feelings to their fullest extent, and by the faint smile of Gwen's face, he thought he might have succeeded.

"I'm not fucking dancing," Merlin whispered into her hair as they made their way through the room, towards what Merlin assumed was the ballroom.

"Watch your mouth."

"Posh people curse too."

"Shut up or I'll make you dance with Lady Helen," Gwen whispered back, just as furious.

Merlin shivered in repulsion. Lady Helen was an important someone's wife, but that didn't stop her from being a complete hag and shooting Merlin scandalously filthy looks across the room like she would devour him in a hot minute if she could only find a corner dark enough. She obviously didn't get the memo that socializing with commoners was beneath her, nor that Merlin was gay... or the notice that she was heinous-looking.

"Gwen, did I ever tell you how glowing you look this evening?" Merlin said, tightening his grip on her arm. Gwen flashed her teeth.

"Don't worry, Merlin. I think we're supposed to meet the honored guest now."

"What do you mean? The honored guest didn't have to attend the dinner? Because that's just not fair," Merlin whined, and grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing tray. Gwen took it right from his hands.

"Didn't you read the program?"

Merlin pouted as she sipped daintily at her glass. "I didn't think dinners had programs."

Gwen rolled her eyes. "Well, this one does, and the honored guest, who, before you ask, was not named, will be introduced and give a small speech."

"Then what?"

Gwen raised an eyebrow. "Then we mingle."

"If I start telling everyone I write gay porn, do you think they'll ask us to leave?"

Gwen laughed, her elbow poking him in the side. "Nah, I think Lady Helen will invite you back to her place, and that man with the sharp teeth will offer to blow you in the loo."

Merlin shuddered. "This is right awful. I hate Morgana."

"I'm quite sure she's counting on that fact."

"I'm going to murder that stupid tiger."

Gwen sipped on her champagne, and Merlin wondered if it tasted as expensive as it looked. His mouth watered a bit because it did look delicious. It was probably like drinking pure gold... or diamonds.

"I promise we'll leave as soon as we meet the guest speaker."

Merlin groaned, making a half-hearted grab for Gwen's glass of bubbly.

"Promise?"

Gwen nodded, laying her head on Merlin's shoulder. "Yes, I promise. I told Morgana we'd stay and meet him because I'm pretty sure that's why we're here. I mean, she said he was expecting us to be here. Whatever that means; you know how Morgana enjoys her riddles. After that, we'll get out of here."

"Can I have some champagne?"

"Maybe. Now, smile charmingly," Gwen said as a couple passed them. The lady of the pair was wearing a tiara. Gwen elbowed him in the ribs a bit too forcefully and Merlin let out a small 'oof'. "I said smile charmingly, not like you have a mental affliction."

"Right."

<3<3<3

"This isn't happening to me," Merlin whispered desperately in Gwen's ear, frantically clawing at where her arm and hand that were entwined with his so that he could fucking escape the room, which was full of people clapping politely even though they were all right surprised that Lady Helen had nabbed such a 'guest speaker' for her glorified dinner party.

"Calm down, you great queen," Gwen hissed back. Merlin wanted to die or vanish or something equally dramatic. Once, he had stopped time as a young lad to ensure that Will didn't snatch the last biscuit, and he was considering doing that now, but he wasn't sure how stopping time would speed him through his agony. And this was nothing short of agony.

"Thank you for such a warm welcome," Prince bloody Arthur of Albion said from his place on the small podium. Merlin gaped like a cod. Prince Arthur was more stunning, if that were possible, in person than the telly and the gossip mags made him out to be. His dark blue suit was tailored to his broad shoulders and did nothing to hide the fact that the prince spent most of his free time playing footie and was, as a result, fit as fuck. His golden hair looked incredibly soft, even from the small distance Merlin and Gwen stood from the podium, and it was artfully tousled in a way that suggested several hair stylists slaved over it until it met their perfect standards. Merlin thought it looked like Arthur had just been shagged... or shagged someone. Either way, the thought was putting absolutely naughty images in his mind that most certainly didn't belong there when Merlin was standing in a ballroom full of faux royalty and now, actual royalty.

He was going to kill Morgana.

Gwen elbowed him in the ribs again. Merlin swore under his breath; that particular spot was going to be sore in the morning from all the times she kept pounding on it. "Pay attention," she hissed, and Merlin blinked. The Prince of Albion was actually giving a pleasant speech about charity or volunteerism or something of the sort.

"It is not only our duty as royal servants to this country but our absolute privilege to be generous with the gentle estates that we have been charged to care for," the prince was saying. His hand gestures were gentle, and Merlin had a sudden flash back to his childhood, sitting in front of the telly and watching Prince Arthur give his first public speech to the kingdom. He had talked animatedly with his hands, and the commentator had said how young it made the prince look and how the royal family must get his enthusiasm under control. Merlin hadn't understood why the Prince of Albion shouldn't be excited to speak to his people. Looking back, it did look a bit uncouth, but Merlin much preferred that boyhood prince to the man in front of him, who looked perfect but spoke like a prat.

"Please join me in thanking Lady Helen for the opportunity to speak to you all in the comfort of her splendid home. Enjoy the rest of your evenings," the prince was finishing. Merlin hadn't even realized how much of the speech he had missed. It was Morgana's damn fault if she thought Merlin was going to listen to what Prince Arthur was saying when he looked so gorgeous in the soft light of the ballroom.

"Well, this is awkward," Gwen whispered in his ear as she shifted around on her feet. Merlin peered down at her, not masking his clearly confused face. "Oh for the sake of the Queen, Merlin! Weren't you listening?"

Merlin shook his head, trying to clear the fog from his brain. He scanned the room to see all the minor royal members clapping politely, with tight and uncomfortable smiles on their faces. When he glanced back at Gwen, her eyebrows were raised, but Merlin just shook his head again.

"This isn't a party for the sake of a party. It was obviously put together to chastise the members of the royal family for their behavior as of recent days and the spending of their money," Gwen hissed while still trying to keep a pleasant smile on her face. "Prince Arthur was lecturing them."

Merlin blinked. "He didn't sound cross."

"Of course not! Royalty doesn't demand anything from each other; they expect it," Gwen said as she straightened up from whispering into his shoulder.

"I should have guessed that Morgana was dragging us into something dreadfully pretentious and painful," Merlin said as he looked for a way to escape now that the prince was off the podium and making his way around the room. Merlin was absolutely not speaking to the bloody Prince of Albion today. He was not mentally prepared to meet his childhood crush in the flesh, not with how his life had been going as of late. Knowing his luck, the prince might plunge Merlin into an even deeper block and crush any aspirations of a future Merlin had.

"She was busy, Merlin. I'm not even sure why Morgana was invited. She's not royalty," Gwen said as she smiled to Lady Helen from across the room.

"Gwen, Morgana is off in Germany buying a tiger. A tiger," Merlin said, incredulous. "If Prince Arthur was talking about shaming the crown and pillaging the royal bank account, I'm pretty sure buying a tiger and curing writer's block with her woman-bits really fits that bill."

Gwen downed the rest of her champagne. "You don't really think that Morgana is royalty, do you?"

Merlin shrugged, looking around the room. Morgana didn't look like anybody here, and even though she was his editor, they tended to spend more than enough time together than was strictly professional. Merlin would have known if he was hanging out with royalty.

"Would you really put anything past her?" Merlin whispered in her ear, trying to smile charmingly and not like a loon while Gwen made small talk with an ugly bloke with a hooked nose. In the end, the man looked fairly scared and scurried away. Merlin didn't even try to look apologetic.

"You'd think we'd know," Gwen went on whispering. "It's not as if the press ever leaves the royal family alone." It amazed Merlin that Gwen could look like she was having a glorious evening, all the while whispering furiously to Merlin. It was obvious that she had superior control over her facial muscles.

"Maybe Morgana is an illegitimate child," Merlin said gleefully.

"Don't be stupid," Gwen hissed back. Suddenly, her back stiffened and Merlin frantically surveyed the room around them.

"Gwen, let's leave. Right this instant."

"Absolutely not. Morgana said to meet the guest of honor and that is exactly what we are doing," Gwen said, and dug her fingernails so deeply into his arm that Merlin was sure he was bleeding through his tux.

"I'm not ready for this," Merlin said hysterically. He could see the prince taking long strides towards them, a small quirk to his lips that was threatening to actually weaken Merlin's knees.

"Nut up," Gwen hissed just as Prince Arthur arrived in front of them.

"You must be Ms. Smith," he said, smiling with a row of perfectly white teeth. Merlin watched in slow motion as Prince Arthur extended his hand and met Gwen's, which he brought to his mouth and kissed. It was disgustingly disarming. Merlin was torn between throwing himself on the prince or throwing up all over his shoes.

"Morgana has told me so much about her capable assistant and dear friend," Arthur went on, practically speaking against Gwen's hand before he lowered it. Merlin thought he could see actual stars in Gwen's eyes. It was his turn to elbow her, not that his own eyes looked any better. Hell, they were probably glowing.

"I'm afraid I can't say the same," Gwen said blushing. "But please, call me Gwen."

Prince Arthur laughed, his head slightly tilting back and exposing enough of his throat to physically cause Merlin's mouth to water. "Morgana does like to keep her royal ties to herself."

"Understatement of the year," Merlin muttered to Gwen, only to have Prince Arthur turn his attention towards him. Merlin squirmed as the prince looked at him, as if just seeing him.

"And you are?"

Merlin glared as Prince Arthur's voice dripped with ostentatious amusement. Merlin was not amusement for the sake of royalty. He was a person, not a circus attendant. Prince Arthur stuck his hand out and Merlin simply glared harder and stuck close to Gwen's side.

"I'm Merlin Emrys," Merlin said reluctantly. He ignored the several violent but surprisingly subtle jabs at his ribs by Gwen. He wasn't going to shake this prat's hand. Royalty or not, Merlin wouldn't be talked down to like he was a commoner. He understood that he was a commoner, but he didn't need to be reminded by some royal prat who obviously had gotten away with being awful to everyone for so long that no one called him out on it anymore.

Merlin had nothing to lose. Fuck Morgana and her torture.

Prince Arthur raised his eyebrows in mild surprise but didn't say anything to Merlin's obvious shunning. In fact, he looked even more amused. Merlin felt his glare turn into a scowl. Prince Arthur turned back to Gwen, his eyes twinkling in mirth. Merlin wouldn't have been surprised if the prince had an attendant to throw glitter in his pupils at the most opportune moments. His eyes were literally glimmering, and it was causing Merlin heart palpitations.

"I take it Morgana has neglected to explain the nature of this event or why she was invited," Prince Arthur said, snagging a glass of champagne from a blushing server.

"Nope, she thought it best to throw us to the beasts without warning," Merlin grumbled. Gwen choked on her own spit.

"Yes, well," the prince said with a pause. "Morgana is actually third in line for the throne."

It was Merlin's turn to choke, this time on his tongue, and Gwen had to untangle them to pound on his back. Merlin watched with watery eyes as Prince Prat looked on in further amusement. Merlin was torn between wanting to die and obliterating the entire room with magic; he hadn't ever used magic to kill someone, but he was pretty sure his mortification and surprise were enough to give it a good go.

"Since the Queen failed to have any heirs, the crown will pass to my father and then to me."

"Where does Morgana come in?" Gwen asked boldly, still rubbing soothing circles on Merlin's back.

"Morgana's father and mine were friends at St. Andrews, and after the death of Morgana's parents, my father adopted her. We grew up together," Prince Arthur said casually.

"How does no one know about this?" Merlin finally regained his voice and squeaked out. Reality was quickly sinking in--Morgana, third in line to the crown of fucking England, had been marking up his gay erotic fiction with a red pen. Merlin felt a blush bloom from what felt like the bottom of his soul.

Despite the above implications, something else felt prickly and hot in his chest. Morgana hadn't told them, and it hurt, twisted sharp and lingering. They were friends, first. They always had been and Merlin was under the impression that they always would be. Morgana had been there when Merlin finally found his father, only to have him murdered in a convenience store robbery not three weeks later. Merlin had been there to help pick Morgana off the ground every time the anniversary of her father's death came about. They had both been there, dressed in black and pillars of strength for Gwen, when her father had been falsely accused of the murder of her mother, resulting in his execution. They were bound together with more than just contracts. They were family. A chosen family that Merlin held dear. Without them and Will, Merlin would have been nothing.

And to think, he had been thinking about telling Morgana the truth about his magic. Merlin shuddered, the amusement of the evening quickly dissipating. He felt his magic swell with humiliation and prickle underneath his skin.

Prince Arthur finished his champagne carefully, his tongue sweeping out to moisten his bottom lip. Merlin felt his magic lurch at the lazy importance the man in front of him exuded. His body was definitely ambivalent, torn between extreme arousal and repugnance.

"Morgana accidentally ran over a reporter with a car when she was thirteen. The media has been terrified of her since," Prince Arthur continued offhandedly, oblivious to the change in Merlin's demeanor. "Besides, due to her late father's investments, Morgana owns a large portion of shares in most, if not all, of the United Kingdom's media outlets. If they dared print anything about her, she'd probably send them off to a war torn country and get them killed."

Merlin felt Gwen force out a trickle of laughter as Prince Prat smiled at her, wide and charming. Merlin really needed a drink. This was by far the most surreal experience of his life. He was torn between being in awe of the man in front of him, full of confidence and grace, and being completely disgusted with his narcissistic air about him, aware of his privilege and beauty--aware of exactly who he was in the eyes of every common citizen in the UK and his ability to exploit that fact.

"Tell me, Merlin," the Prince said, turning his twinkling gaze towards him. "What kind of fiction do you write?"

There was something about his tone and the set of his jaw, smug and superior, that turned Merlin's stomach sour. What kind of game was being played here? It was glaringly obvious that Prince Arthur knew exactly what kind of writing Merlin did and was making a game out of it--making a fool out of Merlin. This wasn't a joke, this was his life, and he wasn't going to be made an ass out of just for the amusement of royalty. He was good writer and he was a proud gay man. No one, royalty or not, was going to make a laughingstock of Merlin's life.

"No, no," Merlin said sweetly, "tell me what it's like to be heir to a throne you've never rightly earned. Seeing as my Queen Elizabeth never found it necessary to stoop low enough to have a shag, let alone children, with one of your inbred family members, I'm surprised--she's such a fine woman--that she'd let the crown pass over to you lot. Albion isn't even a real place. So you tell me," Merlin said, wickedly sharp. "Tell me what it's like to be Prince over a fictional people?"

Gwen was gaping at him. He could feel it burning through the side of his head, but his eyes were trained on Prince Arthur's, refusing to break his gaze even as Merlin realized that the entire ballroom was listening in on his speech. He thanked God, not for the first time, that he published under a pen name and that he wasn't the only gay erotica writer under Morgana's tutelage.

"The Pendragon family of Albion represents the history of this country," Prince Prat gritted out, his jaw tight and his eyes now alight with carefully controlled anger. Merlin would have been incredibly turned on if he weren't so furious himself. "Her Majesty is the future of England, and together the royal family represents a unity of both past and future strengths of this country."

Merlin scoffed. "Is that what your daddy told you to say whenever the lads at school teased you?"

"I'm not sure who you think you are, Mr. Emrys, or if you're confused as to who I am. But I am certainly not a school boy," Arthur continued, through clenched teeth. "And you can't speak to me that way."

Merlin threw up his hand and took a step toward the prince, who was actually an inch shorter than him now that they were nearly nose to nose.

"I'll talk to you however I choose," Merlin said snidely. "I may just be a common chav but that doesn't give you any right to treat me or Gwen however you bloody choose. I'm not some minion who licks your arse for a leg up. And I'm not inclined to stick around for more of your bullshit. Lecture your posh friends all you want, you're all a bunch of pompous, inbred slime. No wonder Morgana didn't want anyone important in her life to know about being related, even by contract, to any of you."

With that he stomped off, rage and magic coursing through his veins. He pushed through throngs of people, not caring who he pushed or shoved. Fuck them. He made his way through the kitchen, and passed the servant's entrance before he found a staircase that led him down to the back alley behind the building, leaving the sprawling penthouse behind him.

Merlin made sure to magic himself a bottle of their expensive champagne on his way out.

<3<3<3

Merlin stared at the ceiling.

Well, it wasn't a ceiling anymore. He had conjured storm clouds to reflect his mood and to keep Kilgharrah away. The nettlesome cat had attacked him as soon as Merlin got home from Morgana's ridiculous and humiliating dinner. He was in such a foul mood that he hadn't even gotten any pleasure out of chasing Kilgharrah out of the living room with lightning bolts.

Lightning bolts always brought him joy.

He felt bad about leaving Gwen there to deal with the aftermath of Merlin's outburst, but she ran Morgana's office and she was more than capable of dealing with a little ruffle in the royal feathers. Not that she should have to, but damnit, what was Morgana thinking, putting them in that situation? Sending them into the den of faux royalty was funny, not cruel; sending them into a den of realization of Morgana's real identity was, making it feel like they were all mocking Merlin and Gwen for being in the dark about Morgana's royal connections. Merlin had never been ashamed of who he was, whether it be working class or gay or an erotica writer. His mother had taught him to be more than any of those things. His magic reminded him every day that he was much more than any of those things.

Hell, even Kilgharrah insisted he had a destiny.

The real problem didn't lie with Prince Arthur, although he was an insufferable prat. The real problem was that Morgana was keeping a secret, just as Merlin was doing. Secrets were secrets for a reason. Merlin knew this, but the sting of Morgana's lie of omission was more than just her deceit; it was Merlin's guilt. They were friends. They were family and he should have told her and Gwen about his magic. He had no idea what was stopping him. There was no way they would abandon him. Will didn't and he was the most fickle person in the world. If anyone would throw a huge tantrum and threaten to out Merlin to the world it would have been Will. But Gwen and Morgana? It was unthinkable.

So then what was stopping him?

"God, I'm such an emotional fucktard," Merlin said into the darkness. The cloud-filled ceiling rumbled once with thunder before it started to rain. Thankfully, the raindrops evaporated before they reached the ground. It felt cleansing. Not to mention how riled up his magic had felt when he was arguing with Prince Arthur. The last time he had felt his magic surge like that had been with the mystery man in the glory hole.

Merlin laughed out loud.

God, his magic was so bloody strange! How it could equate a situation like the one earlier in the night to getting his prick sucked in a loo-- however amazing and intimate it was, they really weren't on the same level. And yet his magic had recognized it, and Merlin had fought to control it. Who knew if he succeeded; there was no way in knowing if his eyes had glowed gold or not. He was fairly sure he didn't hear any glasses shatter, and that was the run of the mill reaction to angry and uncontrollable magic.

Thunder rolled through the living room, and Merlin glared. His magic still felt restless, but his fingers didn't itch to write. Was glory hole man honestly the answer to his latest bit of writer's block?

Did it matter?

Merlin sighed and flicked his wrist, sending the stolen bottle of champagne to the ice box. Will would be pleased and even more excited to hear the entire sordid tale of his evening, if Gwen hadn't called him already. Merlin didn't have the energy to feel ashamed, the emotions were too raw.

The rain fell cool and soothing over his face until he succumbed to sleep.

<3<3<3

"And then you just got the hell out of there?"

Merlin sipped at his tea and nodded. As predicted, Will was completely enthralled with Merlin's tale. Will had a serious vendetta against English authority of any sort, and took rebellious acts against Queen and Crown to heart.

"You've spoken to Gwen?"

"Not since last night," Merlin said. He was feeling increasingly guilty about that, but he was still embarrassed and would need to explain why he freaked out so violently to Morgana's secret and Prince Arthur's particularly brand of prattishness. He wasn't ready for that just yet.

Will shook his head, but he was grinning into his tea cup. "I still can't believe you said all that. What got your knickers in a twist? Other than the fact that Prince Arthur is obviously a fucking cunt."

Merlin sighed and drained the rest of his tea, playing with the handle of his mug. "It's just, Morgana's big secret made me think about my magic."

Will nodded solemnly. If there was one thing that Will took completely seriously, it was the sharing of Merlin's magic. Will had been the first person outside of Merlin's mother to know about the magic and Merlin had shared his fears about letting people know about it. It could be so easy for someone to take advantage of him, Merlin's mother had always worried that Merlin's trusting nature would get him into dangerous trouble some day. Telling Will had been a relief, knowing that telling someone about his magic wasn't going to be the end of the world and that yes, sometimes things really did work out in his favor. There was always the clear and present danger that Merlin might make a mistake and tell someone who had more dangerous ideas than letting Merlin doing the dishes with magic, and how that could break his heart. As it was, just his mum and Will knew about his magic and Merlin wasn't sure he wanted to change that.

"You want to tell them?"

Merlin looked up, but there was nothing but trust and unbelievable support in Will's eyes. Not for the first time, Merlin was so glad to have Will around. Even if he was utterly disgusting, crass, and obsessed with Morgana's breasts. He was the best friend Merlin could have ever asked for.

"I do," Merlin said, breaking eye contact. "But something is stopping me."

Will shrugged. "Have you asked the cat? He always seems to have his own opinions about this shit."

Merlin laughed. He rarely asked Kilgharrah for advice because when he did, the cat spoke in murky riddles. When he didn't ask, and Kilgharrah volunteered fortune cookie wisdom, it was easier to understand. "Nah, I figured I'd let him come to me. He might be a bit pissed at me."

"What'd you do?"

"Don't look so gleeful, it wasn't anything drastic. I just chased him around the living room last night with lightning bolts."

Will cackled, pouring them both another cup of tea. "Serves the fucker right."

"Suppose so," Merlin murmured. He felt so scattered and emotionally charged.

"You should go play today," Will said. "And you should let me come."

Merlin stopped mid-sip. "Will..."

"Hear me out before you shoot me down, mate." Will put his hands up, as if to placate Merlin's future protests. "You're restless and you obviously don't know what you're going to do about Gwen and Morgana, not to mention the fact that Morgana is going to be right pissed you told her brother off."

"Prince Arthur is not her brother."

"Might as well be! They grew up together, Merlin." Will said it lightly but Merlin could hear the undertones: They're real family, like us. Be careful. It burned but it needed to be heard. "Do you really want to be around here, magic all tingly, when Morgana comes round to yell?"

Merlin drank his tea. Will might have a point, even if he used the word tingly again.

"Come on. You can get us there quick, your mum won't even know, and you can just get it all out of your system. You'll decide what you want to do about spilling the magic beans, and you can go talk to them tonight," Will said. His face looked earnest. But Merlin knew he had other motives too.

"You promise not to talk too much?"

Will grinned. "Fuck that."

Merlin nodded, unable to hide a grin of his own.

<3<3<3

His mum's house was nestled in a small meadow in Wales. The area was barely populated, and Merlin's mum had moved there when Merlin was wee because his magic was unpredictable. The less people around to accidentally see baby Merlin move objects around the house and have his blue eyes glow gold, the better. Most of the houses were now abandoned, their residents long dead. It had been an older area when Merlin was growing up. He remembered the older folks who lived around them. But now, now it was mostly just field, and his mum worked in town.

Which made the space around his childhood home a perfect place to let off some steam--magical steam, that is.

"Wicked!" Will yelled from his designated spot. ("I want to be closer." "Absolutely not. I'm too unpredictable." "What are you going to do, turn me into a frog?" "Fuck off, Will or I'll magic you home." "Spoilsport.")

Merlin opened his eyes to see the ground open up at his feet and sweep around him in a circular area. His magic was humming, so happy and content to search for more ways to get closer to the earth. It was a high like no other. He hovered, suspended above the hole as the earth undulated beneath him. The wind around him twisted, taking shape with the trees until they were dancing, swaying, and singing. The song was low and feral, thrumming through his fingertips and racing through his lungs as if the notes were actually breath. Merlin tilted his head back and let the beat take shape through him.

"Remember to think happy, clean thoughts!" Will shouted from the ground, and Merlin laughed out loud, the sound puffing out of his chest and forming small birds that swirled in the open air in front of him before they smashed together with a burst of color to create a huge falcon. The memory of the last time they had done this was clear, when Merlin had let his mind wonder to the anthology he had just published. Needless to say, Will had witnessed some pretty primal animal behavior that he wasn't likely to forget anytime soon. Even if gay woodland creatures were amusing for the first couple of minutes, after that, Will said it just got awkward.

The falcon, which looked as big as a prop plane, dove into the deep hole Merlin had created in the earth. Everything felt as if it were singing or laughing, the breath of the earth turning into heaving gulps of life. Merlin focused his magic, felt the stone spill out of his fingertips until it was surging out of the ground, and Merlin was rising with it. When he opened his eyes, he was standing on a solid stone tower that reached the tops of the tallest trees in the area. The falcon Merlin had created from his laughter was perched on the turret next to him.

"Merlin! You made a fucking tower! You medieval dork," Will yelled. He was obviously having a hard time staying put in his excitement. Merlin felt the stone hum around him, solid and protecting. He made sure the concealing wards were still up before he closed his eyes and felt the magic bloom inside of his mouth. He opened his eyes and pursed his lips, blowing a bubble out of the mass of energy in his lungs.

The bubble pulsated until it turned green and murky before plummeting to the ground and burrowing into a ring around the base of the tower. Will was whooping with glee, and Merlin focused on that, until he felt the water run deep, and spilled mirth inside of it until it breathed life into itself. When he opened his eyes again, there was a legitimate moat around his tower, full of dolphins.

"A moat! A bloody moat!" Will was in stitches across the field, and Merlin smiled when a pair of dolphins jumped out of the water, their figures arched as they dove. His skin had turned a shade of gold and was warring with the sunlight. He could do this for hours, just feel the earth live and breathe through him until he created castles and forests and actual life. This power of life and death was intoxicating--downright scary, but intoxicating nonetheless. His body hummed again, itching for more, and Merlin stepped to the edge of the turret, taking a deep breath before jumping. The water was cool, and Merlin swam straight through it until he hit dirt. He inhaled until dirt filled his lungs before he turned and started up again, breaking through the stone of the tower and infusing the stone until it crumbled around him into nothing but unadulterated creation.

Merlin sat in his newly created tree and took slow, calming breaths until his magic subsided. With some gentle prodding, the gold flowed back into his body and disconnected with the earth. He was never fully dissociated from nature, but it was best to keep the connection muted, or he'd glow gold all the damn time and he would have half the animals in the forests of Britain following him around.

When he opened his eyes, Will was standing below him.

"I thought I told you to stay back," Merlin murmured. His voice was hoarse, but otherwise he felt great.

Will shrugged. "You stopped glowing, figured it was safe. Freak."

"This was a brilliant idea," Merlin whispered. "I don't even feel tired. All that magical energy and I still feel like I could go another round."

Will grinned up at him. "It's brilliant idea because I'm a brilliant man. Now let's get going before your mum notices she has an extra tree in her yard and bitches seven ways 'til Sunday about us never comin' round."

Merlin laughed and hopped down from the low branch. The tree was a bit larger around the middle than any of the other trees in the area, but it wasn't any taller... well, it wasn't much taller. His mum would just have to make do.

"You're not too tired to carry us back? Because we can always take the train," Will said, as they headed back to the main road. Merlin shook his head.

"It'll be fine, Will."

They both shared a grin before linking hands, and disappearing in swirl of glittering gold magic.

<3<3<3

Merlin flopped onto the couch, pressing his face into the cool and comfortable cushions. His body wasn't wound as tightly as it had been before, now that the magic had had free rein, but he still felt the gentle pressure of it beneath his skin. It was comforting, especially as relaxed as he felt. He couldn't even manage to care about Will, who was listening to the messages.

"There are about fifteen from Gwen," Will all but yelled from the kitchen. "She was only miffed for the first three, not that you could tell, but she did that little lifty thing with her voice. The rest she just sounded worried, mate."

Merlin smiled and sank further into the cushions. Gwen was amazing in that way; as much as she was outraged, she still had room for compassion. Morgana, on the other hand, was less than considerate of other people's feelings. Now that Merlin knew who she grew up with, this flaw in her personality didn't seem so strange. Morgana was surprised and frustrated when people had feelings, and considering the fact that the royal family had two modes, royal and pissed off, Merlin was finding clarity in her bizarrely regal behavior.

Will just called her emotionally constipated. Granted, his only emotions were horny and pissed.

"You going to give them a call back?"

Merlin turned over on the couch until the light was completely blocked by his shoulders. He wiggled until his hands were trapped under his body, and breathed in the smell of the old couch. He was so relaxed right now, he didn't even know if he could think about it. Blasé didn't really go over well with Gwen, and Morgana would probably think he was touched in the head or her brother had sent some sort of squadron of trained royal fuckers to completely ruin Merlin.

Did Prince Arthur have such a squad? He should probably ask.

"Merlin!"

Merlin sighed. "Is Morgana back yet?"

"Didn't say but it sounded like she was in an airport," Will said, his voice much closer than before.

"I'll wait, then."

Silence stretched between them. Merlin wanted a cup of tea.

"You going to meet the cocksucker?"

Merlin inhaled so sharply he choked on a stray piece of lint.

"Because I'm not sure if you should," Will continued, as if Merlin's lint capacity in his lungs was of no concern. In fact, that was the most infuriating thing about Will; he had come to think of magic as a part of Merlin and thus, acted like a complete and total prick about it. A know-it-all prick.

"And how," Merlin said into the cushion, "have you come to that conclusion?"

Will either ignored Merlin's annoyance or reveled in it. "Because tingly isn't exactly safe or discreet, is it?"

That was pretty much the opposite of what Merlin wanted to talk about, and he told Will as such.

"I mean, what if your magic goes off while he's sucking your dick," Will said, like Merlin didn't actually exist or wasn’t part of the conversation at all. "What happens then? I mean, what if you kill him with pleasure or something?"

"Your mind boggles me."

"Or what if you flood him with magic or what-not and he freaks out and bites your dick?" Will made a noise of displeasure. "Freya bit my dick once. I thought I was going to get prick-rot. No fucking joke, mate. Gangrene is serious shit."

Merlin groaned. He was so comfy on the couch, but being near Will was frighteningly painful.

"Do you think your magic would take care of prick-rot if that glory-hole bloke did freak out?"

Merlin finally turned his head to glare blearily at his flatmate. "Is this conversation seriously happening right now?"

Will sipped at his tea. "I'm just saying that it's something you really need to think about."

"I hate you."

"So, are you going to meet the cocksucker tonight?"

Merlin frowned. He was startlingly offended for the man with the handkerchiefs to be called something so pornographic. That fact alone made him flush with embarrassment and flip Will two fingers just on principle.

"Just make me some tea, will you?" Merlin cursed as he turned his face back into the couch, and Will laughed his way to the kitchen.

<3<3<3

Merlin napped on and off until Will left.

No matter how annoying Will was, he did have a point. Not that Merlin would ever admit it to him, but nevertheless. He had been able to control his magic in their previous encounters, but he wasn't so sure his magic wanted to be controlled, not after having a day full of playtime. Things happened in the heat of the moment. Nothing bad had ever happened, but once or twice Merlin had moved furniture, and one more notable time his come had actually been gold, but no one had seen it but him and the condom so it didn't really make any difference. What Will was suggesting, well, it was just because he had a flare for the dramatic and wanted to torture Merlin in as many ways as possible that he continued to unconsciously fuel Merlin's fears.

When he was younger, his mother used to tell him that having sex would cause his magic to go crazy and he would either turn his partner into a frog or magic away his prick. Obviously, her threat was effective enough to make Merlin keep his virginity until university. She was a crafty woman. Merlin was half convinced she caught him wanking--objects levitated off the ground--and never let him know because it's the only way her prediction would be that accurate. Plus, once he got control over his magic, meditation was a must, and then the spontaneous acts of magic-while-aroused stopped.

Well, they had stopped but now with the whole glory-hole business and actually meeting the Prince of Albion, only to find that he both excited Merlin and invited rage into his heart, Merlin wasn't so sure he could trust his magic to behave anymore. Goodness knows if his eyes were flashing when he was arguing with Prince Prat, and even though it felt glorious to get out and release pent-up energy, Merlin was worried that his magic might get a little too free when he was meeting up with Handkerchief man.

"All right," he said aloud to Kilgharrah, who wasn't speaking to him at the moment because the cat had serious qualms about Merlin using his magic for anything that wasn't life or death. But Merlin wasn't exactly upset with the cat's silence, since he was rarely silent. The bickering between him and Will alone was enough to drive Merlin to drink.

"I'm not going," Merlin declared.

Kilgharrah hacked up a hair ball in response.

<3<3<3

Merlin found himself heading towards his usual stall.

The fact that he had a usual stall was surreal and moving towards pathetic. But Merlin tried not to dwell on that fact as he walked quickly through the club, which was playing remixed songs from musicals as it was Broadway night, and slipped into the dirty bathroom. Not surprisingly, the bathroom was empty. Broadway themed nights weren't as busy as usual because there was an 18+ night at the twink bar around the corner, but the older queens were sipping cocktails and singing show tunes as if it were any other night. It was comforting, even if Merlin was sitting in an empty stall waiting for his pre-arranged glory-hole date.

"I'm pathetic," he said in the emptiness of the bathroom. The toilet seat was uncomfortable, and with only a small amount of debate with himself he closed his eyes and let his magic work, melting the toilet away and easing himself onto the floor, which was plush and comfortable beneath him thanks to a few murmured words.

He honestly had planned to stay home and write. He had. But, his magic had grown restless and it had scared him. With the amount of supernatural energy he had used today, he shouldn't be restless to use anymore. And it had been, until the hour grew nearer to when he was supposed to meet the Handkerchief Man, and his skin had itched with magic, and he left before he had to listen to Kilgharrah say 'I told you so'. Not that Kilgharrah needed to speak to be spiteful, but lately he had taken to lying on the kitchen counter and gloating, each phrase even more cryptic than the last, and always in a sing-song sort of voice that drove Merlin insane. It was infuriating and unnatural and made Merlin want to give the blasted thing up for adoption like Will had been suggesting ever since he found out that Merlin had a talking cat with a freakishly long life span.

But now that he was here, sitting in his usual stall and waiting for a stranger to blow him through a hole, he didn't feel horny. He felt agitated and restless, like his magic still wasn't happy. It was odd, to think about the varying moods of his magic, but it had been so temperamental lately, almost as bad as his writing.

Which he hadn't done in days, due to some grave mistake Merlin must have made in a past life that compelled the universe to punish him long into his current one. He had writer's block that was only cured by getting his cock sucked by a specific stranger, who was probably ugly or a mass murderer, and his editor was probably planning to feed him to her pet tiger for being a failure as a writer and for telling off her sort-of-brother, who was not a sort-of-prince but an actual one.

Will was right, there was nothing normal about his life.

Merlin rubbed at his forehead and stared at the empty stall on the other side of the hole. His magic twitched, sparking up his spine, but otherwise it behaved. It was strange. Although he didn't feel aroused, his magic hummed like he was. It was a peculiar feeling--not unwelcome, just unfamiliar and confusing.

"This is ridiculous," Merlin said, and set about persuading himself to leave, which probably would have worked if the handkerchief man hadn't chosen that moment to walk in, place his handkerchief on the ground, and kneel. Merlin recognized the gentle pleat of his trousers underneath the stall, and his magic flared, bright and almost painful, before settling back down on the base of his spine.

He felt utterly calm. Comforted, even.

"I almost didn't come," Merlin whispered, surprising himself by talking. "This all seems so crazy and you wouldn't believe me if I told you how much I need this--how much this affects me."

Merlin cringed. Great, now he sounded desperate. "Not in a sexual way," he amended. "Just, it's like this switch gets flicked, and somewhere it all makes sense when you're here. Which, I know, sounds crazy because you're just here to get off and I'm babbling on and on like a love-sick fool when I don't even know you."

He trailed off. He tentatively touched his fingers into the hole, where he could feel the man taking even breaths. Merlin pressed his forehead to the stall and breathed slowly until he was taking breaths in sync with the puffs of air on the pads of his fingers.

"Can I... can I just talk?" Merlin's face was bright red, but his magic was soothing, casting calming waves over him that left him feeling euphoric. He was hoping some of that feeling was translating because he just wanted to stay here forever. "I mean, it's okay if you don't want to, because obviously you came here for a reason, and I can go so someone else can take my place, but--"

Soft lips pressed against his fingers in a chaste kiss.

Merlin sighed. "Are you sure? Because I don't want to ruin your night, this is obviously your thing, and here I am just rambling and being such a sensitive twat."

Merlin relaxed as the lips pressed gentle kisses up and down the length of his fingers. It was such an intimate gesture, obviously made to make Merlin relax, that he almost felt himself harden at how sensual it all was. He wanted nothing more than to kiss those lips, but obviously the man had a reason to be in a bathroom stall--a reason for anonymity that Merlin wasn't going to question.

And so Merlin watched as the handkerchief man rearranged himself so that he was sitting as Merlin was, instead of on his knees. The whole process took a few seconds, but Merlin was captivated by the quiet grace the man held. Merlin wished he could clean the floor and soften it for him, but it would be too hard to do it without him noticing. Instead, Merlin took in the soft look of his trousers and the long line of his legs. He was obviously tall, though he couldn't be much taller than Merlin, but where Merlin was lanky and awkward, the man looked comfortable in his own body and strong in the way his body had filled out. Merlin tried not to stare at the man's legs, which looked as if they could belong to a footballer, but he couldn't help but think how small he looked in comparison. Merlin didn't know anything about fashion, so he couldn't suss out if the man's trousers were fashionable or if his shoes were expensive, but that didn't stop Merlin from looking.

Or talking.

Merlin filled the next two hours with rambling in whispered tones from topics of his writing to Kilgharrah's obscure speeches before straying tentatively toward the subjects of Gwen and Morgana, leaving out their names and hashing out everything that Merlin had been avoiding talking to Will about. It was easy, surprisingly easy to lay it all out in the open for a stranger who gave amazing head and kissed Merlin's fingers like he was born to do nothing but that, bestowing soft and intimate kisses on whomever he chose as blissful gifts.

It was only after Merlin had left, his magic humming and his skin practically glowing gold, that he realized they had been holding hands beneath the stall. Merlin felt a smile stretch across his face, only regretting the fact that he couldn't remember what the hands had felt like against his own or what they could have told him about the man behind the stall.

That night, he wrote about those hands as much as he fantasized about them. The dark red handkerchief sat folded on his desktop where Kilgharrah was lying, pawing at the elaborate embroidered dragon and smiling creepily as he was known to do. Merlin was too concerned with his writing to tell him off. Besides, he was grateful for the quiet.

<3<3<3

That night, Merlin dreamed vividly. At first, the dream seemed like the first night he had spent with the handkerchief man: the sounds of the bathroom were the same and Merlin felt the same actions run their course. But this time, as the warm wet heat of the man's mouth engulfed him, the hole grew larger. Merlin could sense his magic thrumming through him, beating in time with the loud bass of the club and running up through his feet. He wondered if the man who was blissfully sucking at his cock, taking him deep in his throat, felt the same magical hum, or if he only had the music to guide him.

He wanted to ask, wanted to gasp dirty things to him through the stall, but he was too concerned about his magic and the way the hole was getting larger, exposing the man's lips, thin but soft around Merlin's cock and stretched impossibly wide as they tightened around the base so his tongue could play with the vein on the underside. Merlin tried to stop him, tried to pull away when he realized the hole was getting bigger, but he couldn't stop thrusting back into the heat of the man's mouth, utterly consumed by pleasure, and letting his magic run wild. Soon, the man's nose was coming into view, as was the sharp line of his chin. Both looked slim but strong, almost regal-looking, as they came into view.

Merlin clutched at the top of the stall, his mind torn between enjoying the thick and heavy pounding of pleasure through his body, and the terrifying edge of his magic being loose, exposing the man's face. The thought of the man, exposed and real in front of him, both terrified Merlin and excited him.

He wanted to suck on that man's tongue. He wanted to kiss the man's lips. But there was something stronger at bay, welling and sloshing against the sides of his chest. There was a constant ambivalence in the choices that his magic faced, as if there really were two sides of a coin to Merlin's life and to his magic that where in continual war.

The hole kept expanding to encompass the strong line of the man's jaw, sprinkled with dark blonde stubble. He was attractive, but Merlin couldn't seem to care about his earlier worries. He was panicked with fear and pleasure, and they both seemed to be erupting up the base of his spine as the hole widened, the man's eyelashes coming into view as they fanned out over his cheeks. His bone structure was strong and the lines were masculine. Even with his eyes closed, the man looked powerful and radiated strength.

Merlin couldn't stop himself from thrusting, pleasure twisting inside of him and wrenching cries out of his throat as the man opened wider, letting Merlin fuck his face in earnest now. Merlin was too entranced by the sight of his cock pushing the man's lips wide to notice that the entirety of his face was now exposed, too occupied with watching the way the man's lips turned bright red and spit coated his chin from his open mouth.

The man moaned loudly, and Merlin felt his orgasm looming just out of his reach. He cried out as his magic surged, and the man's eyes flew open, his face becoming a whole picture and not just pieces of a human puzzle.

The face of Prince Arthur Pendragon of Albion stared back at him, blue eyes striking in their blown arousal, and looking just as impassioned as he had when he was arguing with Merlin nights before.

Merlin came, reality and fantasy all spiraling into chaos as his dream dissolved, leaving him wide awake with sticky sheets and his hand clutching the red handkerchief.

<3<3<3

Merlin emerged from his shower still feeling dirty, toweling his hair and glaring at his bed, which was still rumpled and smelled like sex. He was in denial that his mind had actually let him have a sex dream about Prince Prat, of all people. He was no stranger to odd dreams, but sex dreams about people he absolutely loathed were rare. Merlin hadn't come in his sleep since he was fourteen and desperately in love with Percy Thomas, the school football star who had freckles and adorable glasses.

His usual dreams were a bit more... medieval, to be completely honest. Merlin had dreamed of destiny and dragons since he was little, but they were never sexual in nature. Hell, they were the most confusing dreams that sounded more like riddles out of Kilgharrah's mouth than dream-like states. A sex dream in and of itself was unusual enough, but one about Prince Arthur was just downright wrong.

Merlin dressed quickly, finding the nearest white shirt and pair of tight black jeans he could get his hands on, before he turned back to the bed and set it on fire with a flick of his hand. The disappearance of the evidence made Merlin feel marginally better. He could deny this now. He could put this behind him. He wasn't sure he could look Morgana in the eye, but what else was new?

"Bit early for redecorating, isn't it?"

Merlin whipped his head around from where he was staring at the smoldering ashes of his bed and its linens to find Will standing in the doorway, pajama-clad and sipping a cup of tea. Merlin blushed.

"I don't really want to talk about it," Merlin said as firmly as possible. His mouth watered for a cup of tea and maybe a piece of toast with jam.

Will shrugged. "Don't really have time to listen to you ramble anyway, mate. You've got a meeting in an hour with Morgana."

"What?"

"Gwen just called."

Merlin looked frantically around the room. He wasn't ready for this. "What did she say?"

"Not much, just to get there and try not to be late because Morgana was in a mood."

"Fantastic."

Merlin pulled on trainers and grabbed a scarf from the floor, hastily pulling on a cardigan from the back of a chair before storming into the kitchen. There was still warm water in the kettle, warm enough for weak tea, and Merlin scrambled between toaster and kettle. He couldn't go to Morgana's without breakfast. The last time that had happened, Merlin had thrown up on a finished manuscript and stained her carpet. She hadn't been happy, and he could easily imagine how unhappy she would be if it happened again. (Especially given the fact that Merlin wasn't going to meet the magazine deadline and had trash-talked her brother in a very public and very posh setting. To his face.)

Merlin stuffed half a piece of toast into his mouth and gratefully accepted his satchel from Will, who was still standing in his pajamas and looking for all the world like this was any other normal morning.

"How can you be so calm?" Merlin screeched at Will as he sorted through his bag, double checking that everything was there. "I could be marching to my death, and you're just standing there."

Will opened his mouth to reply but Merlin was already out of the flat, door slamming shut by magical force.

There was no way he wasn't going to be late.

<3<3<3

Morgana's office was normally carefully controlled chaos. Today, when Merlin walked off the lift, it was clear that control was not on anyone's agenda for the day. The scene before him was pure chaos. Gwen, who had her headset on, was talking to what appeared to be ten different people as well as periodically handing Morgause tissues. The emotionally scarred self-help writer was sobbing uncontrollably in the corner of the room, wearing a bathrobe. Merlin wanted to ask, but he was honestly afraid of the answer. Behind him, Morgana's curtains were pulled tight over her office windows, but Merlin could hear muffled yelling.

Well, then.

"Hi," Merlin waved as he stepped into the office and shut the door behind him. Morgause didn't look up, too busy blowing her nose, but Gwen gestured to him frantically. Merlin stepped closer but didn't completely approach her desk. It looked like a war zone. "Maybe you'd like me to come back?"

Gwen frowned at him and then turned sharply towards her computer to type furiously, all while glaring at Merlin and yelling at someone on the phone who was apparently have a very, very bad day.

"Sir," Gwen said. "Ms. Le Fay doesn't care about the psychological damage your mother may or may not have afflicted on you. She doesn't have time to speak with you or come to your aid because she is a very busy and important individual. Don't--"

Merlin raised an eyebrow and took a seat across from Morgause, who looked as if she was considering bursting out into another round of tears. Merlin tried imploring her with his eyes to refrain, but her bottom lip started to tremble and so he looked away, occupying himself with trying to see what was going on in Morgana's office.

"What is wrong with everyone!" Merlin looked up to see Gwen ripping off her headset and sweeping the telephone off her desk with a frustrated noise that was frankly terrifying. He had never been in a situation that Gwen couldn't handle with poise and crisp, polite tones. Merlin twitched in his seat, clutching his bag to his chest and ignoring Morgause's sniffling.

"Um?" Merlin tried to smile, but he was fairly sure he just came across as scared. Gwen stood up and made several aggressive hand gestures while shuffling papers around and generally looking threatening. Mostly because Gwen never looked threatening, and even a small amount of aggression looked fierce on her, let alone what her stress level must have been building to, with Morgana buying tigers and anything else Gwen neglected to mention... not that Merlin was returning her calls as of late.

"Merlin," Gwen started, as she stacked notebooks and large envelopes. "I would love nothing more than to yell at you for stranding me at that dinner party, which you completely freaked out at, but I do not have time for that."

Merlin felt an embarrassed flush work its way up his neck. It was like when his mother used to lecture him, voice cold: 'Merlin, I'm so disappointed in you that I can't even look at you. Get out of my sight.'

"I'm really so--"

"Yeah, I don't have time," Gwen said with a flick of her wrist and an ominous eyebrow. "But we will be having a conversation, Merlin. We will."

Merlin nodded blankly. "So, I'm not here for you to yell at me?"

"No," Gwen said with a smirk. "You're here so Morgana can yell at you."

"Morgana's back?"

"Oh yes, tiger and all."

Merlin got up and shuffled forward, where Gwen was stuffing a bag full of papers. "You're leaving?"

"As much as I would love to stay," Gwen muttered. "Because it's going to be a production, and you're likely to cry liters of emo tears, which I wouldn't want to miss considering the pain you deserve to feel after the complete and utter embarrassment you made me endure. However, I've got about a million and one things to do for Morgana and not enough hours in the day."

"Gwen, please don't leave me."

Gwen looked up, bored expression plastered on her face. Life was cruel.

"Gwen," Merlin uttered desperately. She continued to look unimpressed with his despair.

"I almost feel bad for you," she said with a tilt of her head, as if considering saving him or imagining his demise at the hands of royalty.

"But," Merlin asked meekly.

"I still have to go." Gwen pulled the bag over her shoulder. "Gird your loins, love. Morgana will bellow for you when she's ready."

Merlin nodded as Gwen kissed his cheek on her way by, completely ignoring Morgause and making her way out the door without a backwards glance. And with that, Merlin was left to ponder his fate, with Morgause's tearful sniffling by his side.

He honestly had never imagined his end being so dim. But then again, he was certain his destiny was to die destitute and alone, while Will had said eventually, by the rule of large numbers, that one of Merlin's drunken shags was going to be a serial killer and he would die, pants around his ankles, in a compromising position, with enough alcohol in his system to kill a pony. Obviously, they had spent quite a bit of time contemplating Merlin's pathetic existence. In fact, it used to inspire at least a couple thousand words out of him. Now, the only thing that seemed to help was the handkerchief man.

"My career is over," he said aloud. Morgause just nodded and blew her nose.

It was then, as Merlin was considering joining Morgause in her pity party, that a loud scream came from Morgana's office. It wasn't a normal scream of delight that Morgana often had when she gleefully forced a manuscript out of a block-ridden author or when she finally signed a writer away from Nimeuh Publications. It was a scream of terror.

Merlin was out of his seat and through the door before Morgause could gasp out another pitiful tear. The sight that greeted him was shocking and would be a bit hilarious from the sheer ludicrousness if it didn't seem to involve someone losing their life.

Merlin didn't hesitate; his hand flew out in front of him, and he felt magic surge through his body until his vision went white. Merlin blinked back into vision, his hands trembling before him as he turned to survey the office, which had gone completely and utterly still.

It looked as if he had literally stopped time.

Morgana was a mess, her jeans loose on her body and her hair was messily pinned up, but she still looked more beautiful than any woman Merlin had ever met. There were papers scattered all over the office as if a tornado had hit, there were even stray pencils and pens stuck into the wall or the ceiling. Merlin wasn't sure if his magic had done that or if flying writing utensils was normal. To the left of the door was the most shocking sight and probably why his magic kicked in so forcefully, Kilgharrah's words echoing in his mind about life and death situations exceeding his control over his magic.

A large tiger was leaning over Prince Arthur of Albion, teeth bared and looking bone-chillingly frightening. The prince was dressed in what looked to be the remains of a very expensive and well-tailored suit. The trousers were wrinkled, the jacket thrown over the large black leather couch, and the prince's shirt was slashed open with several large claw marks, his blood stilled in time but already seeping into the surrounding cloth.

Merlin couldn't help but notice how toned his chest was.

"Not the time," Merlin said aloud as the reality of what he did began to sink in. How was he supposed to fix this without revealing his magic? Did he just move the tiger and then act like they were all insane? That wouldn't work. Prince Arthur was a prat, but he wasn't stupid. Maybe he could call a zoo keeper or animal control and then unfreeze time before he got there? Yes. That would have to do.

Merlin picked up the phone but heard nothing across the line.

"What the fuck?" Merlin turned from the useless phone and pulled at the curtains to reveal the street below, completely still and unmoving.

"Holy shit," Merlin said, pulling the curtains back into place as if that would make the gravity of his magic disappear. Was the whole city stopped? Was the whole country? Had he stopped the time of the entire universe just with a flick of his wrist and a flash of gold?

"Holy shit." Merlin took a deep breath, willing himself to stop hyperventilating. The only person in the world Merlin had ever sought advice about this magic wasn't even a person, and surely Kilgharrah was frozen as well. It did no one any good to dwell on the detail that he was in fact, scary powerful. He should just focus on more pressing issues, like how to save the prince's life without revealing himself to someone who could either take over the world or use Merlin for creepy science experiments or kill him with secret ninja assassins. He also happened to be a complete and total prat.

Maybe he should just let the tiger eat him.

Merlin felt hysterical, inappropriate laughter bubble up from his belly. He tried to stifle his giggles as he paced around the room, trying to think of something he could do without outing himself or causing even more of a disaster than usual. He obviously wasn't cut out to be saving anyone's life. He was absolute rubbish at getting himself out of situations he shouldn’t be in to begin with, let alone other people, without causing severe injury to life and limb.

Either way, he was going to have to deal with some serious wrath, but royal wrath seemed much more complicated and frightening than Morgana, which was incredible considering how much of Merlin's adult life had been spent hiding from Morgana and her evil, if not productive, ways. Maybe he could just unfreeze her? Because one pissed off and freaked out person was probably much easier to handle than two. If Merlin had to handle two Wills when he told him about the magic, well, Merlin wasn't too sure he would still be alive.

"Right then," Merlin said aloud as he walked back around the desk to face Morgana. "Just unfreeze her. No one else."

Merlin closed his eyes and tried to feel out his magic, as if he were meditating, and moved it towards Morgana. It was harder to control his magic when it felt as if it were thundering through his veins.

The startled scream from Morgana signaled her return to motion; unfortunately, there was also a distinctly animalistic roar that accompanied it from behind him. Merlin turned around, one hand thrown out to stop the tiger from sinking his claws into Prince Arthur's prone form, or letting it rip into the man's throat. The burst of magic was bright and concentrated, gold blooming through the room, leaving Merlin gasping for air as the tiger fell to the ground, blood soaking the area behind its head, and life slipping from its eyes. Morgana gasped beside him, and Merlin turned towards her, trying to gauge her reaction as his vision blurred, his legs as shaky as a newborn colt beneath him as the rest of his body hummed, glowing gold with unrestrained magic. She only looked bewildered, and Merlin muttered an apology, the words wheezing out of him as the last burst of magic seeped through him. Time started again and Merlin passed out, his body crashing to the floor, no longer able to stand beneath the strength of his power.

<3<3<3

The first time Merlin woke up, everything was dark and silent. The only evidence of light was pooling in his palm, a shimmering globe of magic that seemed simply incandescent and peaceful. He let the comforting lull of magic sweep over him as he closed his eyes and fell back into oblivion.

The second time Merlin regained consciousness, he could feel the area underneath of him was soft and smelled like fresh linens. He could hear raised voices, but just as he identified Will's and possibly Kilgharrah's, sleep claimed him again. He didn't even think to check his hand for the ball because he knew it was there, a pleasantly calm bit of magic that coaxed him to sleep.

As Merlin struggled into wakefulness a third time, he twisted and turned in the soft linens until a hand tightened around his own. He tried to open his eyes, but his lids seemed heavy with sleep. Instead he just squeezed back, clutching at the person's hand until he fell back asleep.

<3<3<3

He was dreaming for the first time since he fell asleep. He was soaring above a beautiful countryside when a voice called to him, slowly pulling him away from the vivid landscape.

"Merlin," the soft voice said. "Merlin, wake up. I need you to drink some water."

Cool hands touched his forehead and Merlin heard himself groan, the dim light from the bedside practically blinding him. There was a scramble to turn the light off, and Merlin tried to open his eyes again, vision blurry, but coherent enough to make out Gwen's round face. He opened his mouth to speak, but Gwen shushed him, putting a cup of water to his lips.

He drank greedily, suddenly realizing how dry his throat was.

"There you go," she murmured again as she smoothed a cool cloth over his forehead. "Your fever just broke. You need to rest more."

Merlin shook his head, pushing away the empty cup and opening his mouth to speak. He had so much to explain, so much to apologize for. Gwen tutted, leaning him back against the pillows and taking his hand. "Sleep now, we'll talk later. You're safe," she said, and Merlin clutched at her hand as he fell into darkness once again.

<3<3<3

 

Merlin blinked into wakefulness.

"Don't think that almost dying isn't going to get you out of a lecture," a soft but obviously tearful voice said beside him. Merlin blinked again, clearing the sleep from his eyes with a tired hand before the world came into focus. It was night time, the darkness seeping in through the bottom of the curtains by a window he didn't recognize.

Merlin tried to sit up, but Morgana just scooted closer, her slim hand pressing on his chest until he lay flat on the bed. It seemed as if she had been crying, eyes bright and clothes rumpled. She looked like a woman in a Renaissance painting, so sad and yet in possession of such beauty that she was still captivating. When she started to move back, Merlin put his hand over hers, and they laced their fingers over his heart.

He wondered if she understood.

"I'm so sorry," Merlin whispered. "I never meant to lie to you."

Morgana shook her head, her free hand going to wipe away a few tears before they went streaming down her face. "You've got plenty to apologize for but I'm the one who should be asking for forgiveness."

Merlin smiled, but it felt tiny and stretched. He clutched harder at her hand and hoped to all that was good that she understood. "I guess we're both really good liars."

"I guess," Morgana barked out in a small huff of laughter. "We should try and be worse at it. Starting now."

Merlin nodded. He toyed with the ring on her finger and looked around the room. It was lavishly decorated in a minimalist style. It screamed money but didn't look like Morgana, who favored deep colors and striking prints.

"Where are we?"

Morgana tilted her head and sighed. "Arthur's place."

Merlin bolted upright. "Oh god, is he all right?" Merlin tried to get up, dizziness swimming through his blurry vision, but Morgana stopped him with two hands to his chest and a fond but earnest smile.

"He's fine, Merlin. Arthur is fine."

Merlin collapsed back into bed, suddenly feeling intensely exhausted.

"Wait," he said, as he patted the soft duvet beneath him. "We're in Prince Arthur's home?"

Morgana nodded, her face bordering on sheepish. Merlin groaned.

"Please tell me I haven't been in a magically induced coma in Prince Arthur of Albion's palace, Morgana. I will honestly flip my shit--"

Morgana giggled and shook her head, getting up to pour Merlin a glass of water. Or at least, Merlin thought it was water, even though it was being poured out of a pitcher probably worth more than his life. It was heavily ordained, and Merlin wasn't quite sure how Morgana's wrists could handle the weight of the pure crystal. It looked heavy.

"It's Arthur's flat here in London, Merlin. You are such a little bitch, stop panicking."

"Right," he said, accepting the glass of water. "Right then."

Morgana settled back in the chair beside his bed and looked nervous--at least, that was what Merlin suspected her expression was, he had never seen it before. She could just be constipated or plotting new and exciting ways to ruin his life. Merlin pushed himself up to gulp at the water, then settled back into the pillows.

"So," he said, and then smiled meekly. Morgana shook her head and laughed at him.

"Magic, Merlin. I think it's probably about time you explain the magic," Morgana said. "Particularly the part where you saved my brother--well, practically my brother, and maybe the part with the spinning magical ball in your sleep, and Kilgharrah, your talking cat."

Morgana paused, tilting her head back and forth. "Well, maybe you should just start at the beginning?"

And then, for the first time since Will, Merlin explained how he had been moving objects since he was wee and how he had grown into his powers, powers that seemed to range from moving objects with his mind to creating life when joined with the natural force of nature. Morgana nodded in all the appropriate places, as if Merlin was pitching a particularly interesting story to her. She didn't look frightened or angry with him, and it was all in all a pleasant experience, much more so than it had been with Will, who had interrupted every five seconds to yell in outrage or shriek in awe. Merlin felt a bit silly for worrying about Morgana, who had obviously been well-versed in the keeping of secrets.

"Whatever happened in your office," Merlin said with a shrug and an unidentifiable hand gesture, "I've never felt anything like that before. I mean, I've never really saved anyone's life before, but the way my magic behaves when Prince Arthur is around is strange. It's never felt that way before."

Merlin blushed and broke eye contact with Morgana because that wasn't necessarily true. He had felt that rush of uncontrollable magic before saving Prince Arthur's life. He had felt it with the handkerchief man. Morgana seemed to read him well enough to question him on it, though.

"Merlin, I thought we said no more lies."

"Fine, fine, all right. But you're going to mock me."

Morgana looked at him as if he had lost his head. "Darling, you're a bloody wizard named Merlin, for Christ's sake. If I was going to mock you for something, surely it would be that."

"Yes," he said. "But this is different. It's... well, it's gayer."

Morgana simply giggled.

"See? You're already laughing."

It only seemed to make her laugh harder. Merlin huffed, although he was smiling.

"I'm not telling you until you stop laughing at me."

"Okay," she said. "Tell me, what is immensely gay that also has to do with your magic? Do you have a unicorn or something? Shoot rainbows out your arse?"

Merlin's jaw dropped. "No! No! Nothing like that."

"Well?"

Merlin found that sometimes when he was admitting to something particularly embarrassing (like that time he magicked toilet paper into the loo from the living room cupboard) that it was best to come out with it straight away. Merlin called it the Will Approach.

Mostly because that was how Will spoke about everything: blunt and oh so painfully to the point.

"My writer's block is only being cured by getting blown in a glory hole," Merlin said in a rush. "By the same guy who makes my magic all wonky. Whom I call the handkerchief man. But only in my head."

Merlin grimaced as he watched for a reaction. All he got was a very slim eyebrow being arched.

"A glory hole, you say?"

"Erm, yes."

"And how is it affecting your writing?"

Merlin sighed. This was the tough part. "Um, well. I'm writing more theory-based stories."

A second eyebrow joined the first.

"More like smut with a heavy dose of queer theory dealing with intimacy issues within the community," Merlin finished, and Morgana groaned in agony, burying her head in her hands. Even the top of her head looked pissed off.

"I'm not sorry," Merlin found himself saying. Morgana stilled the shaking of her head in her hands. "I mean, I'm sorry it's not going to sell as well, but, Morgana, it's some of the best writing I've ever done. It just flows out of me after I've seen him, and it's beautiful. It's beyond anything I've ever felt before."

Morgana raised her head, looking resigned but not terribly furious. "So we're pursuing this, yes?"

"Yes," he said with a firm nod of his head.

"And this magical wonkiness is the same way you feel around my brother?"

Merlin blushed. "It has no correlation."

"Really?" Morgana deadpanned, her voice climbing into smugness.

"Yes. You're bro-- The Prince of Albion is just a prat, no offense. And as far as I'm concerned, it was just my magic reacting to the life or death situation that presented itself."

Morgana looked unimpressed at his no-nonsense tone.

"Morgana, I'm serious."

"Be serious all you want, Merlin. But I'm fairly sure you have a crush on that brother of mine," she said in a sing-song voice that strongly reminded Merlin of Will and Kilgharrah simultaneously. It was unnerving.

"I do not have a crush on Arthu--The Prince of Albion!"

"It's okay, I admit he has a nice arse. Even if he's a snob," Morgana said offhandedly. As if they were talking about the weather and not something that may or may not be considered treason.

His face must have belied his thoughts because Morgana laughed, tittering and lovely. "Oh Merlin, Arthur can't behead you for wanting to bugger him. He'd have to lock up half of England if he were shy; which, by and by, I think you know that he isn't. I still can't believe you had a row with him in front of the extended royal family!"

Merlin felt the flush from the very tips of his toes to his very wide ears. "He started it! He was a complete and utter prat."

Morgana looked at him as if he were a very amusing child. Merlin sputtered in frustration, pointing a finger and kind of flailing his arms.

"And I do not want to shag him or his princely perfect bum!”

The resulting clatter of crockery outside the door, complete with an exceedingly polished voice cursing, had Merlin burying his face into the pillow and Morgana howling with laughter.

"He's out there isn't he?" Merlin whispered, in downright humiliation.

Morgana tried to calm down her chortling and managed to spit out during bursts of donkey-like braying, "This is his house, Merlin." But Merlin was too busy trying to smother himself with the nearest royal linen to pay her any mind. His life was over.

"I'm not apologizing for killing your tiger if you don't stop laughing," Merlin said, but Morgana just waved him off, snickering until tears were running down her face.

"God," Merlin moaned into the pillows as Morgana began to actually hiccup from the strain of laughing at his expense.

"I should have just let it eat me."

<3<3<3

Surprisingly, for staying in Prince Arthur's house, Merlin didn't see the prince all that often. In fact, he was more like a phantom presence in the way objects would be moved this way and that, or how Merlin's favorite biscuits would show up in the cupboard when he wasn't looking. All in all, it was quiet. He was very thankful for Prince Arthur's absence, since he hadn't yet gotten over his mortification of all the shouting about the shagging or the buggery or whatever.

He was still waiting for the ninja assassins to attack him in his sleep.

The flat itself was sprawling and furnished with expensive and slightly uncomfortable furniture. It was, for all intents and purposes, a glass house. It had no homey feel. Merlin felt like he had to be fully dressed when he walked around the house, just in case someone important dropped by. There was nothing about the flat that told Merlin anything about Prince Arthur. It was clean and pristine, and Merlin hated staying there. He desperately missed his worn robe and chipped mugs that littered his kitchen and bit into his lip when he sipped tea. He missed the soft material of his couch that sagged under his weight, and Will singing in the shower to some ridiculous American pop song, or the way the sun broke into his window because his curtains were too cheap to block out the strength of the light.

He just missed being home.

Unfortunately, he was having trouble staying upright for more than twenty minutes at a time before he felt like collapsing in exhaustion. Morgana refused to take him home, telling him that she didn't have time to visit him at his dingy flat when Arthur's was closer to work and her own flat. Merlin scoffed and tried not to grumble like a petulant child, but it was hard when all he wanted to do was be in his room, away from the sterile environment of a prince's home. Plus, Merlin was still afraid that one day he'd walk around the corner and see Prince Arthur doing something completely dashing, and any defenses Merlin had built up via his extreme pratliness would crumple, and Merlin would be left drooling over his perfect abs, his broad shoulders and his charming smiles.

Merlin was only human.

Because Prince Arthur's flat was close to Morgana's, it also had the downside of being close to Camelot, and even as Merlin was fighting exhaustion by making his own damn cup of tea, he was dead bored just lying about. He wanted nothing more than to write; his fingers itched, and his magic even perked up from its foggy haze of laziness to tug at him when he passed by the window that looked out onto the street, where Merlin could actually see the large warehouse building Camelot was located in. He almost thought about escaping there one night, when the flat around him finally settled down and Merlin was sure Prince Arthur wasn't traipsing around making dinner or tea or anything remotely human and adorable. Merlin thought about escaping to Camelot to sit in the loo stall and meditate, let his magic flow freely until the handkerchief man showed up.

Hell, Merlin was half convinced the only reason the handkerchief man even came about was because Merlin's magic compelled him to. The idea of his magic having that effect on anyone made Merlin tingle in a pleasant sort of way, but it was also scary. If he was doing it without thought, if all he had to do was close his eyes and let his emotions run their course, what would happen if Merlin willed his magic at someone? Would they do his bidding? Would they ignore their own desires and ambitions to bend to Merlin's will? The power was both intoxicating and sickening.

As much as he thought about it, he couldn't act upon it or even test his theory out because the one time he did try and sneak out, Kilgharrah had threaded around his legs with his stupid cat body and sent Merlin tumbling to the ground in the darkness. When Merlin had turned on the light, ready to yell, Kilgharrah was nowhere to be found, and Prince Arthur was standing in the doorway, blinking sleepily into the hallway lights. Merlin had looked at the prince, who was wearing sleep pants and a t-shirt so thin Merlin was afraid a swift breeze would disintegrate it, and then looked back at where he was reaching for his coat--his coat, that was hanging on the rack with many other coats that Merlin had seen in magazines. At that point he completely lost it, mumbling an apology and fleeing the room before the prince could ask if he was okay or yell at him for disturbing his sleep.

He hadn't seen any royalty around the house since. Not counting Morgana.

"Feeling any better, mate?"

Merlin looked up from where he was standing in the kitchen to see Will leaning against the door jam. Merlin smiled and waved him in, pointing to the kettle while he grabbed a mug from the cupboard.

"Not really, I still get tired so easily."

"Yeah, this magic business is tricky," Will said as he poured boiling water into his mug, letting it slosh and burn the tips of Merlin's fingers. Merlin glared, but there was no heat in it.

"Wait! How'd you get in here?" Merlin gestured to the sparkling flat around them. "I thought Morgana refused to give you a key."

Will smirked. "I think she's turned on that I might cause a scandal."

Merlin shook his head in defeat. Some things would never change, and that thought was oddly reassuring.

"I let him in," Gwen said as she swooped in and stole Will's cup, sipping as she grinned.

"Oi! You bloody thief!"

Gwen grimaced and gave the cup back. "Disgusting. Would you prefer some tea with your milk?"

Merlin tugged her away from Will's spiteful face to hug her. She went willingly, wrapping her arms around Merlin tightly. They hadn't talked about the magic or the secrets, but Merlin was sure that Gwen had already forgiven him. She just hadn't been around a lot when Merlin first started to wake up, and the result had been Morgana feeding Gwen most of her information from the conversations that she had with Merlin. It wasn't ideal, but it would have to do. Gwen was busy enough trying to get Morgana's office remodeled from the subsequent tiger damage to have to tend to Merlin's wounds. Especially since Gwen said that she was spending half her time convincing Morgana that getting wild animals for her office wasn't a good idea. Morgana was under the impression that it was just a fluke or that it was all Prince Arthur's fault.

"How's the office?"

Gwen pulled away enough to roll her eyes and scrunch up her face.

"That bad?"

"It's not easy handling the phone calls, the design plans, the designers, the construction team, and Morgana's need for dangerous creatures," Gwen said, casually taking Merlin's tea and sipping at it. Her facial expression wasn't much better than when she had tried Will's.

"Why can't you guys just take your tea like normal Englishmen?"

Merlin grinned, snatching his tea back and gesturing toward the sitting room. He was already getting light-headed, and he didn't want to pass out in front of Gwen. She'd spend the rest of the day fawning over him and neglecting Morgana, which would lead to Merlin getting his ass chewed out for not taking care of himself and being ungrateful.

It had already happened twice.

<3<3<3

A week went by with Merlin trying to move out of Prince Arthur's flat without much luck. He spent most of his time attempting to write, but with only memories of the handkerchief man to guide him, Merlin's muse wasn't budging. That inconvenient fact, paired with his increasing boredom and wellness, was driving Merlin crazy--crazy enough to change his normal hours and completely forget that he was avoiding Prince Arthur in his own damn home. Naturally, Merlin should have known that his luck would run out.

Merlin practically startled out of sleep, waking up slumped on the couch just as the sun was poking through the flat's windows. It was barely dawn, and Merlin staggered off the couch, scratching at his hip where his boxers had ridden up. He had spent the night rereading what he had wrote, trying desperately to draw out some inspiration for writing, but it seemed to have failed. Merlin didn't even remember falling asleep.

He rubbed at his eyes as he made his way into the kitchen, squinting at the bright light that was already on. Tiny spots scattered over his vision and then cleared, revealing Prince Arthur of Albion in a towel.

"Oh my God," Merlin heard himself gasp, unable to stop himself from taking in the prince's tanned back, his muscles rippling from where he was bending down at the ice box and looking at Merlin over his shoulder, surprised by Merlin and his screeching. Merlin felt his face heat as he stared at the cream towel around the prince's waist and the way he was cut, lines of muscle carving out his hip bones and making them look inconveniently lickable.

Merlin promptly squeezed his eyes shut and turned around. "Terribly sorry," Merlin said weakly. "I didn't mean to interrupt. Or shout."

He heard a light chuckle behind him and the sound of the refrigerator door click shut. He squeezed his eyes tighter as his imagination filled in the blanks, recalling what the prince was wearing or what he wasn't wearing. This wasn't happening to him.

"You weren't interrupting anything," Prince Arthur said smoothly, amusement evident in his voice. "You live here, too, I'm surprised we haven't run into each other before."

"I try to stay out of your way."

"Avoiding me, are you?"

"N-no."

Merlin blushed harder, feeling as if his soul were actually feeling the depth of his mortification. He wanted nothing more than to swipe that arrogant smile off the prince's face. He didn't need to have his eyes open to know what the prince's tone conveyed.

"Merlin, are you going to turn around?"

"Are you going to put on some clothes?" Merlin found himself spitting back at the prince, who laughed again and put something down on the counter.

"My, my! Is the elusive Mr. Emrys a prude?"

Merlin squawked and turned around, eyes still squeezed shut, and sputtered in the general direction of Prince Prat. "I'm an erotica author! I'm not a prude!"

Again, the only response was laughter, and Merlin shook his head, turning around to go back out the kitchen.

"Oh, don't go! Come on then, won't you stay for some tea?"

Merlin paused, his hands braced on the doorway. There was something in the prince's tone--vulnerability, maybe? Loneliness? Whatever it was, it prickled hot and sticky at the base of his spine in a way that provoked his magic to run across his arms, raising goosebumps.

"I promise to make it extra twiggy?"

Merlin turned around slowly and said, "How'd you know how I take my tea?"

Prince Arthur was leaning against the stove top, towel inching down his navel in a thoroughly distracting way. He looked so sodding domestic and relaxed that Merlin almost forgot that he had asked a question, lost in the way the prince looked outside of gossip magazines and ill-timed arguments. Merlin only remembered his question when the prince flushed, his cheeks pinking as he shrugged and looked away.

"Morgana must have told me," Prince Arthur said, but his tone was petulant, and Merlin grinned, happy to have a level playing field, or at least a place where Merlin felt his feet begin to return to solid ground. Naked royalty seemed to have an odd effect on his insides.

"You've been making me tea! Special! Just for me!"

"Have not!"

"Have so! You've been making me tea and leaving it for me like a little girl with a crush," Merlin accused with a little wiggle of his finger. "You, Prince Arthur, have a crush on me!"

It was the prince's turn to sputter, and Merlin laughed, falling against the counter top and giggling into his hand. It was only then, combined with Prince Arthur's flushed face, that he realized how naked he was himself. Boxers didn't seem to hide the way Prince Arthur's near nakedness affected him or the way his magic had reacted.

"Don't flatter yourself," the prince was saying in a tone that hinted toward his reversion back to prat. "I would never have feelings for--"

"--a commoner?" Merlin interrupted, now feeling self-conscious as he pressed his body against the counter. This was exactly why he avoided the prince. It was too confusing and more than frustrating. Merlin was supposed to be taking it easy, not spending his mornings flustered and dealing with unruly magical incidents.

"No. No, that's not what I meant!" Prince Arthur said, looking down at his hands before finally meeting Merlin's eyes again. Merlin almost gasped at the tenderness there. It stung as the prince coughed and looked at the tea kettle. It was simmering nicely but it hadn't reached the boiling point yet. Merlin ached for a distraction.

"That's not what I meant at all," Prince Arthur continued. "It's just, well, I never thanked you properly for saving my life."

Merlin looked up, shock flickering all over his features. His magic purred, as if it knew it was being complimented.

"You don't have to thank me," Merlin stuttered out. "Plus, I'm not sure tea is a proper thank you, your Highness."

The prince shook his head. "Arthur, please call me Arthur."

Merlin nodded, eyes lingering on the way Arthur's flush had spread to his toned chest. He looked almost bashful in the light, and Merlin felt the need to make his own confessions, desperately wanting this man to feel comfortable again. It was a strange sensation.

"Well, in that case, I hope you'll forgive me for arguing with you at that dinner thing," Merlin said. He wrung his hands together when Arthur arched a blonde eyebrow at him in surprise. "I probably didn't make a good impression."

Arthur laughed, a big belly laugh that had Merlin's magic sparking off his skin and charging the air. The prince was beautiful, even in the kitchen lighting at an obscene hour of the morning. Merlin shook his head, a grin transforming his face. This was beyond unreal.

"No, I suppose it wasn't the best of impressions to that lot," Arthur said, with laughter still hitching in his voice. Merlin shrugged and smiled.

"But neither was my behavior," he continued softly.

"I guess we bring out the prat in each other."

"Guess so," Arthur said, a fond smile stretching across his face that seemed to light him up from within. Merlin felt his breath literally hitch, and his magic surge around them until it popped, Merlin's skin glowing brightly as Arthur's eyes widened, his jaw dropping.

The kettle sung, shrill and outrageous, effectively killing whatever had happened between the two of them. Merlin sagged against the counter as the prince nodded and turned around, gathering another mug and going about fixing their tea.

It was only after the prince had left, an excuse of being late on his tongue and Merlin's eyes following his perky and shapely arse out of the kitchen, that Merlin noticed that his tea was made perfectly.

The thought had him smiling for the rest of the morning.

<3<3<3

The rest of the week passed in a blur for Merlin, his days highlighted by moments with the prince that fueled his writing. His bloody magic came alive when the Prince Arthur was around, which annoyed Merlin to no end, since he couldn't even get it to warm his towels in the morning. He had been feeling so sluggish since expelling all that magical energy, and then the life-saving had really zapped it out of him. But whenever Arthur was around, with his charmingly sheepish smiles and his one crooked tooth and his deep, belly laughs--all of it sent Merlin's magic into some sort of fit. As annoying as it was, it was also refreshing to finally have a break from the dependence on the handkerchief man and his magical blow jobs of creativity.

It seemed, somewhere between daily tea with Arthur and the occasional lunch or dinner, watching telly or sitting in companionship as Arthur read over whatever stately documents he had and Merlin poured over a book of poetry, they had become friends.

At least, that was what Merlin would have called it if it wasn't for the fact that the person Merlin was becoming friends, nay mates with, was Prince Arthur, who now insisted that Merlin call him Arthur.

Arthur.

All the friendly moments when Arthur's gaze lingered too long, or when he put his hand on the small of Merlin's back, or that one time when Arthur had brought him tea and their fingers had curled around each other, had Merlin's imagination running wild. At least, that was the excuse he was giving himself because Merlin couldn't stop the dreams. In fact, every time he closed his eyes he was back in the stall of Camelot's loo with his cock in that hole and Arthur's mouth on the other side.

Each morning, Merlin would wake up with come soaked boxers and enough embarrassment to keep him from making eye contact with Arthur throughout their morning tea together.

Whatever was wrong with him needed to stop, because it was driving Merlin insane. His imagination and his magic had quite clearly gone rogue, because there was no way that Arthur had any interest in Merlin. Not only because Merlin was the wrong gender, but their relationship was clearly made out of convenience.

It was hard being a prince, that much Merlin could see. Arthur was always up and about the flat before the sun had fully risen and spent most of his day in meetings, doing charity events, or a number of other things he never talked about, and always came home well after midnight, looking tired but gentle in the night, and totally melting Merlin's heart. It was obvious that Arthur craved a little bit of a normal life, and Merlin represented that--he was a stand-in for a few minutes of sanity with a normal person, doing normal things.

There was no way they were more than friends of convenience, let alone more than friends. And Merlin needed a reality check, this much was clear. But it was so difficult when Arthur lit up like a child on Christmas morning every time he got home late at night and Merlin was still up, scribbling down lines of short stories and poetry. It was so hard to remind himself that Arthur was a prat and that he hated commoners and that he was just a posh piece of shit when he was all of those things but so much more.

He was delightful.

"Oh God," Merlin moaned into the very expensive couch cushion, sure that any minute ninja assassins would jump out to deliver him the reality check he so tragically needed. He clutched at the dragon-embroidered handkerchief. It was, literally, the only link Merlin had to reality. The handkerchief man was not a prince. He was a real person, who was probably ugly as fuck but had a lovely mouth and provoked his magic just like Prince Arthur. It wasn't just a... princely thing.

Merlin breathed deeply before sagging into the couch and declaring dramatically that he was doomed.

"What's wrong with you now?"

Merlin sat up quickly at the sound of Arthur's voice, amused but smooth and deep enough to make Merlin's naughty bits tingle in a way that had nothing to do with his magic. Merlin blushed and shook his head, trying to think of something to say that wasn't too close to the truth but wasn't a lie. Merlin wasn't sure he had it in him to lie to Arthur. Not now, not with his magic practically out there on the table between them and Arthur not running in the opposite direction or putting him in some sort of institution. It felt... comfortable between them.

"Oh," Merlin said, as he fought to keep control of his blush. "I was just thinking about my writing."

Arthur nodded and settled on the other side of the couch, way too close for Merlin's presence of mind right now. He felt himself start to panic as Arthur shrugged out of his suit jacket and loosened his tie, undoing the top three buttons of his button-up shirt and completely unraveling what was left of Merlin's composure.

Merlin started to babble. "I was just, seeing this guy--I mean, not really seeing so much as sleeping with but it was really helping my writing, and by helping, I mean, I've never written like that before, not since you and this, and I just really miss it, and I'm annoyed that he has this power over me and I--"

Merlin took a deep breath and wondered when he had turned into Gwen. Arthur looked bewildered, but his face quickly scrambled, going through an array of emotions Merlin didn't recognize before settling on amused.

"You haven't seen him since you've been here?"

Merlin shook his head frantically. "It's not a conventional type of relationship."

"What is that a euphemism for?" Arthur settled back into the couch and turned his body toward Merlin, looking for all the world like he was simply having a conversation about something normal, with someone normal, instead of Merlin, who had clearly lost his mind if he was having this conversation with the Prince of Albion, whom Merlin might have a big gay crush on.

"Glory holes," Merlin blurted out. "I met him in a glory hole loo and he gave me this handkerchief, and..."

Shame. A new fragrance inspired by Merlin Emrys.

"--and I guess that's it. That's my last dirty secret that you've managed to squeeze out of me with princely charm. I can't believe I just told you that," Merlin finished with a defeated sigh. He pressed the soft cloth to his face and tried to smother himself with it.

Arthur was silent beside him.

"God," Merlin said into the handkerchief. "I should have never told you that. See, we had a normal friendship where we talked about the weather and how Jonathan Ross was ace, and now I've gone and fucked it up because I over-shared. I'm that person, the over-sharer."

Merlin felt the mortification down to the depths of his very soul. "You're a prince! I always forget that you're a bloody prince and don't want to hear about all of my pathetically cliché gay tendencies. I mean," Merlin said with a strangled laugh, "how much more cliché homo can I get? Glory holes, right? Wow. I'm so sorry, I can't seem to stop talking."

Merlin waited for whatever circle of hell was ready for him to swallow him up. He peeked at Arthur's face, which was a carefully controlled blankness. Merlin shifted on the couch and let the silence stretch between them, even though he was desperate to fill it back up with anything but this awkwardness. Merlin smashed the handkerchief back against his face as Arthur cleared his throat in the space between them. However, when he spoke, his voice was still choked off and rough. Merlin wanted to die. He had finally embarrassed Arthur, Prince of Pratly remarks, into strangled silence.

"A handkerchief?"

Merlin dragged the aforementioned cloth completely away from his face. "After all that, and you pick the handkerchief to be amazed by?" Merlin stared at Arthur, who looked flushed and beautiful, even if his eyes were a little glassy and his body poised as if he were ready to fight or get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. It surely was an improvement from controlled blankness.

"After I just confessed my whole sordid tale of debauchery to you, you ask me about the handkerchief?"

Arthur shook his head, as if clearing it. "You didn't give me any details, Merlin. You were talking about a mile a minute, you're lucky I made out anything more than glory hole."

Merlin whimpered. The way Arthur's posh and infuriatingly royal accent just curled around the words 'glory hole' was enough to undo him. If Merlin hadn't still been warring with totally humiliation, he probably would have come in his trousers. It was absolutely a filthy sin for Arthur to say anything remotely dirty.

"Let's see it then," Arthur said, and held out his shaking hand. The slight tremble in Arthur's confident hand had Merlin sighing.

"I've freaked you out," Merlin said. "You don't have to pretend to be interested. I'm sorry I even said anything."

Arthur's eyes flashed angrily. "Merlin, just let me see the damn handkerchief before I strangle you."

Merlin reluctantly handed the soft piece of cloth over. It was strange to let someone else touch it. Even though the handkerchief man probably let other people use his embroidered cloths, Merlin had considered it something of his own personal gift. Letting Arthur touch it felt both exhilarating and uneasy, as if Arthur could take it all away with a blink of an eye: their friendship, the flat, the pleasantly tingling magic, and the handkerchief that inspired so much out of Merlin.

Merlin watched with wide eyes as Arthur ran his hands over the cloth, his fingernail catching on the embroidery.

"He gave this to you?"

Merlin nodded, still entranced by the way Arthur ran his hands over and over the cloth. "Yeah, he had two of them. The other one was the opposite colors."

Arthur hummed as his hands worked the cloth over and over. Merlin couldn't help but watch his large hands move over the silky cloth. Merlin was torn between watching the prince's hands and his face, which was pensive as much as bewildered. Merlin wanted to nip at Arthur's bottom lip. It stuck out in what would charitably be called a pout.

"Arthur?"

Arthur looked up and Merlin was absolutely floored by the desire there. He felt his magic tremble and all the air go out of the room. It was as if he were transported back to his dreams, where the line between Arthur and the mystery man in the bathroom blurred beyond his control.

"Right," Arthur said abruptly, breaking the silence between them, and then the handkerchief was back in Merlin's lap and Arthur was gone. Down the hall, the sound of Arthur's door slamming shut vibrated throughout the house, and Merlin blinked.

Merlin stared at the handkerchief in his lap and then at the hallway, his mind playing over the last moments of their conversation and how Arthur had gone from pandering to Merlin's delusions to suddenly not. It was plain that Merlin had missed something important.

Kilgharrah appeared out of nowhere, stalking towards the window and looking at Merlin as if he was a particularly unique brand of stupid.

"What just happened?" Merlin asked aloud.

The cat leapt onto the window, tail curling with disdain and pretentiousness.

"I'm afraid if you can't figure this one out on your own," Kilgharrah said in his most condescending tone, "then there is not much hope for you after all."

Try as he might, Merlin couldn't bring himself to disagree. Instead, he played the scene over and over again in his head, trying to come up with some sort of logical conclusion to Arthur's sudden disenchantment.

Hours later, Merlin fell into a sleep that twisted him through dreams of the handkerchief man and Arthur, their faces blending back and forth as they fought over the small piece of embroidered cloth.

It was not the most restful sleep of Merlin's life. But that didn't stop him from coming in his boxers before he woke up, Arthur's arousal-blown eyes burned into his mind's eye.

<3<3<3

A week and a half was apparently how long it took Morgana to reclaim her ruthlessness, because the next morning, after scrubbing the inside of his boxers for a good twenty minutes (as if that would purge the image of Arthur's lust-blown eyes from his memory), Merlin checked his inbox to find five subtly annoyed messages from Morgana about his writing.

The first two inquired about his progress, the third demanded to know if he was avoiding her and to inform him that avoidance would not stop her from sacrificing him to the latest pagan goddess Morgause was obsessed with, and the fourth email told him to go stare at Arthur, and if he wasn't around, there were baby pictures in the hallway closet.

The fifth told him that if she had to wheel him into the club and up to the glory hole herself, then she would.

"She's insane," Merlin said to his laptop. He hadn't had the heart to make himself tea in the morning when he woke up and walked to the kitchen to find Arthur gone, only the still-warm kettle a sign that he had been there for any length of time. Instead, he had dragged himself back to bed and pouted for a good hour before Kilgharrah made his way into the bedroom to annoy the fuck out of him.

Being an annoyance to anyone with two legs was Kilgharrah's favorite pastime. Merlin was still confused as to how the blasted cat had got to Arthur's flat in the first place. According to Will, who had just glared at Merlin when he asked and told him Kilgharrah was nothing but the devil incarnate, the cat had jumped into his car when he was being driven back home from the Palace, where Arthur was attended to by the royal physician after Morgana's tiger tried to eat him. Although Arthur had spent a good twenty minutes trying to get it to leave him alone, he eventually tired of the meowing.

And the talking.

Merlin could understand the sentiment.

"They told me you were intelligent, boy."

Merlin turned to raise an eyebrow at Kilgharrah, who was lying prone and belly-up next to Merlin in bed.

"And who exactly is this ‘they’?"

Kilgharrah stretched, flicking his tail against Merlin's leg in annoyance. Merlin was ignoring the cat's obvious want for belly-scratching attention on principle.

"The fates, my boy. How many times do I have to tell you? The fates," the cat purred again.

Merlin rolled his eyes. "And what do the fates have in store for me now?"

"Starvation," Kilgharrah said, deadpanned.

Merlin pushed him off the bed with a hasty flick of his wrist, happy when his magic actually obeyed him. It was a good sign. Maybe if his magic were obeying him more, then he would feel better enough to leave. There was no need to stay at Arthur's place anymore. Not when Merlin had obviously freaked him out the other night, and the dreams were getting increasingly more vivid.

"I am writing," Merlin muttered to himself. "I'm writing more than I was before the handkerchief man."

But the fact was that even though his magic went frantic when Arthur was around, it wasn't anything like the connection he had with the handkerchief man. That sort of intimacy had a specifically moving reaction inside of Merlin; he could still feel the phantom warmth of that mouth around his fingertips, as well as other parts of him, and it was enough for Merlin to ache. The dreams were obviously just a manifestation of Merlin's desire for the man in the loo, combined with Merlin's long standing crush on Arthur. It had nothing to do with the real Arthur, charming Arthur who liked his tea proper and English, and loved to sing along with Jonathan Ross' Four Poofs and A Piano, and wore a ring on his thumb that his academic mother gave him when he was at Uni. ArthurArthurArthur.

Arthur, who was straight and completely untouchable because he was the Prince of Albion and straight.

It frightened Merlin how much he had to remind himself of the prince's orientation. He treated Merlin just like he treated his footie mates, not that Merlin had met any of them, but Arthur was just affectionate because he obviously had so little of it growing up in the Palace with no mother and bloody King Uther as a father ( Merlin was sure that King Uther actually could turn people to stone with his eyes and still employed medieval punishments on his critics). But there was no point in dwelling on Arthur's affectionate smile, or the way he made Merlin's tea, or any of the million touches that Merlin could remember from the past week. None of it meant anything. Arthur was just being nice and thanking Merlin for saving him from rabid tigers.

"God," Merlin moaned, as he tried to type a response to Morgana's horrid emails. "How is this my life?"

Kilgharrah hissed from the doorway, where he looked to be eating a bird. Merlin didn't want to ask how the cat had got into Arthur's super secret flat with a million security precautions with a dead animal. He looked to be tearing the thing to shreds. Merlin felt ill.

"Seriously. How is this my life?"

"It's not!" Kilgharrah protested between gleaming teeth. "It's your destiny."

Much to Kilgharrah’s dismay, Merlin’s aim was spectacular. Merlin didn't even feel bad for getting his pillow covered in bird blood.

<3<3<3

Merlin had battled with himself and what was left of his dignity, trying to decide if he was going to stay up for Arthur's return that night. He didn't want to seem embarrassed by the handkerchief man because Merlin was anything but embarrassed to be gay--even if glory holes were fairly embarrassing. And he didn't want to make things awkward by making Arthur think that he was avoiding him. But Arthur's abrupt leave of their conversation the night before was odd and confusing and not something that Merlin wanted to think about, as his mind would always stray to the most unlikely reasons because he liked to torture himself in the endless sea of homosexual longing.

Plus, he was almost ready to venture outside of the cocoon he had been in. He had stood for most of the day, trying to write a love scene (without luck because he kept angsting himself into his characters and totally ruining the mood) and as he was pacing the length of the apartment, he hadn't felt the need to lie down or to pass out. It was progress. Not that he would be feeling that way for the rest of the week, but baby steps were essential to magical recovery. Or at least that was what Kilgharrah kept telling him. Merlin was convinced that the cat just liked Arthur's couch better.

In the end, Merlin stretched out on the couch in the living room with a book and BBC One on mute. His writing was slow going, and sending Morgana sentences were not appeasing her. If she weren't so busy doing whatever it was that Morgana did when she wasn't harassing Merlin, he was sure that she would come over and force his magic to get the handkerchief man to meet him somewhere. According to Morgana, Merlin didn't write fast enough when Arthur was around, because Merlin was too distracted by making cow eyes at Arthur to get anything productive done.

Merlin wanted to protest, but he couldn't. He was inspired to write when Arthur was around, and when they were quietly sitting together in the living room, Merlin wrote as much as he could. Although, to be honest, it was hard to write when Arthur was making witty comments about what was going on in the world and then having to explain the entire situation to Merlin because he was woefully ignorant on anything that wasn't the new Richard Siken collection or a shit review on his latest book. Merlin would spend half of his time trying to listen to Arthur, but then Arthur would start explaining with his hands and Merlin would get very, very distracted by the loveliness of his fingers and how much lovelier they would look on Merlin's skin.

But then Arthur would laugh at one of Merlin's facial expressions, or a question he asked, and Merlin would feel so compelled to write, just to capture that moment of Arthur's laughter and his smile. It amazed Merlin how bright Arthur's smile was, how full of sunshine and joy each committed action was to Arthur. It was so adorable, it made Merlin sick.

Merlin started as the phone rang. He'd never heard a house phone ring in the entire time he had been staying at Arthur's flat. When it rang again, Kilgharrah jumped up on the back of the couch and stared at him. Merlin ignored him, pulling the notebook closer to him and hovering over the blank surface.

The phone rang a third time and Kilgharrah flicked his tail in Merlin's ear.

"You should answer that," he said. Merlin shook his head.

"It's rude to answer someone else's phone, Kilgharrah."

"It's for you."

"Don't be ridiculous. The only people that know I'm here already know my mobile number," Merlin said offhandedly.

Kilgharrah purred evilly. "Arthur doesn't know your mobile."

Merlin stilled. The phone rang again and Merlin jumped up, catching it before it stopped ringing.

"Hello?"

"Yes, sir. I'm inquiring for a Mr. Emyrs," a gruff but proper voice said on the line.

"That's me."

"Quite. I'm afraid to inform you that Prince Arthur will not be able to make it home for your plans."

Merlin choked on his own spit. "Plans?"

"Yes," the voice drawled, as if Merlin had a mental deficiency. "He sends his regards and invites you to a late dinner. Do you accept?"

"What?"

"Mr. Emyrs--" the voice said with plain annoyance and a hint of disdain. Merlin shook his head and cut him off.

"Of course. Of course I'll join him," Merlin stuttered out, his notebook dropping to the ground. "Where should I meet him?"

"I see how the prince would find you amusing," the voice deadpanned. "Leon will arrive to pick you up in thirty minutes."

The line promptly went dead, and Merlin stared at the receiver.

"I can't decide if that was really cool, or if I'm about to get kidnapped and killed by someone very posh," Merlin said aloud. Kilgharrah curled around his ankles and purred.

"You should wear your blue jumper," the cat said.

Merlin looked down, his mind slowly wrapping itself around the fact that he was meeting Arthur--Prince Arthur--for dinner because he couldn't make it home for their plans, as if they had plans to sit around and read together. It was, on the whole, too much to process for his relatively simple mind.

"Right," Merlin said.

"Come along then, let's pick you out something that isn't ghastly inappropriate," Kilgharrah said as he trotted down the hall to where Merlin slept, Merlin's clothes having been brought over by Morgana. In fact, Merlin was fairly certain that she had thrown away most of his old clothes, because nothing in his closet looked remotely familiar, and Morgana had a bad habit of loathing Merlin's fashion decisions as if he made conscious wardrobe choices.

As if he had dates with princes.

"I think I'm hyperventilating." Merlin gulped.

Kilgharrah scoffed, or as much of a scoff as a cat could voice, and said, "You can't hyperventilate over your destiny, Merlin. That's absurd."

<3<3<3

After wrestling himself into a soft blue jumper and trousers that weren't too offending, Merlin went to wait by the curb--because 'destiny did not like to like to be kept waiting' (Kilgharrah's words). True to whoever had instructed him on the phone, a black town car pulled up five minutes before Merlin was instructed to be outside, and a very tall, very attractive man stepped out. Merlin tried to not stare too hard at who must have been Arthur's driver, who was bloody gorgeous in a scruffy way, his body obviously fit and muscular underneath the dark and perfectly tailored suit. He would have looked completely nondescript if it weren't for his dark blue eyes and his crooked smile, which he threw on when he opened the door for Merlin.

Merlin simply nodded and stepped into the car, settling in the soft plush of the bench seat. There was a black privacy screen that was rolled up between the backseat of the vehicle and the front. Merlin waited until the car started to move, realizing that the driver wasn't going to put down the privacy screen, before he awkwardly leaned forward and tapped on the window. It rolled down obediently.

"Yes, sir?"

Merlin shifted and leaned until he could see the driver's face in the rearview mirror. "Um, sorry, but where are we going?"

The driver quirked a smile, and Merlin's heart melted a little bit. "The Kitchen."

"The kitchen?"

"Yes, sir."

Merlin shifted on the obviously expensive leather seats. Seriously, they felt like butter.

"And we'll be meeting Arthur there?"

"You are Merlin Emyrs," the driver said with another quirked smile, "aren't you?"

Merlin blushed. "Oh yes. I just, some incredibly posh and rude man called me, who wasn't Arthur actually if you can believe it, and rather cryptically forced me into dinner with Arthur, and I'm not sure if we're going to dinner or if I'm being offed."

The driver laughed, a wheezing but pleasant sound. "He said you were feisty."

"Feisty?" Merlin hissed, mildly offended. He really didn't appreciate Arthur talking about him like he was some broad he picked up in a club, to his driver, of all people.

"Spunky, if you will."

"God, he's such a prat!"

The driver laughed again, his hand slapping the steering wheel. "I take it you have no idea who I am then?"

"You could be a ninja assassin for all I know," Merlin said grumpily.

"Well, I can assure you that Prince Arthur doesn't have any ninjas under his control," the man said, with the same sparkling charm that Arthur exuded on the first night they had met. Merlin couldn't decide if he was charmed or just annoyed. "Although, I can't say the same about the King."

"I'm not meeting King Uther for dinner. I'm meeting his prat of a son," Merlin protested. He was starting to feel like he was ordered to dinner.

"At The Kitchen, a private restaurant that caters to the royal family."

"Do you think they will have tuna and macaroni with cheese?"

The driver raised a bushy eyebrow.

Merlin frowned. "What? I have a craving!"

"I'm sure they will be able to accommodate you, sir."

"Please don't call me that. I've not yet passed the age of eighty."

The driver chuckled again, and Merlin set back in his seat as grumpily as possible. Once again, he didn't like to be at the arse end of posh people's jokes. It wasn't his fault that they did everything with a veil of mystery, as if going out to dinner were such a super secret activity that needed code words and drivers and crotchety old men to lecture Merlin over the phone.

"You can put up the privacy screen," Merlin said tetchily. "I'm sure Arthur makes you drive around by yourself all the time, picking up random people and making you take them places."

The driver didn't laugh this time, he only smiled and said, "You're the first person I've picked up in a while, Mr. Emyrs. Prince Arthur's life has been rather dull lately."

This time, Merlin laughed. The screen went up as he thought about hungry, man-eating tigers, and the casual brush of Arthur's fingertips against his skin, magic sparking between them.

Yes, dull life indeed.

<3<3<3

The drive to The Kitchen took longer than Merlin had expected, and he soon found himself nodding off in the back of the car, the smell of expensive cologne and the softness of the leather lulling him to sleep just as he was toeing off his shoes, leaving his feet bare against the soft carpet of the car. It was a dreamless sleep--for that, Merlin was grateful, but he drifted in and out of consciousness as the black town car toured the city, the lights barely shining through the heavy tint of the windows. The sleep felt like minutes, but when Merlin opened his eyes, Arthur was sitting beside him. Merlin startled, trying to sit up, but Arthur just smiled and waved his hands.

"I didn't mean to wake you," he said softly. Merlin rubbed his eyes, slowly taking in Arthur's pinstriped suit and the way Merlin's feet were buried underneath Arthur's warm thigh. Merlin wiggled his toes, provoking an awkwardly charming grin from the Prince.

"I didn't mean to fall asleep," Merlin said. "How long was I out?"

"Two hours."

"Two hours?" Merlin sat up and leaned forward, casually brushing his hand against Arthur's shoulder in a way that was utterly delightful because he could do that; Arthur was real.

"I'm sorry I asked you to dinner when you were this tired. You should have said no," Arthur said quietly, almost shyly.

"The man on the phone was very abrasive."

Arthur snickered, his eyes soft in the barely-there lighting of the car. "Gaius. The man on the phone is Gaius. He's my personal attendant."

"What's that mean?"

"He's a spy for my father," Arthur said with amusement. "He plans my schedule, makes sure I'm where I'm supposed to be on time, and tries to keep any of my extracurricular activities out of the paper and off my father's radar."

"Well," Merlin said with cheek, "he's got a stick up his arse."

Arthur laughed this time, a full belly laugh that had Merlin grinning like a goon. "Gaius said the same thing about you."

"I can't imagine Gaius saying 'arse'."

"True. He had the same sentiments as you," Arthur amended.

Merlin wrinkled his nose in response just to see Arthur laugh again, his hair falling into his eyes and making him look years younger. He looked as if he were having fun, sitting in a car with Merlin after he had stood him up for dinner. Merlin felt a surge of affection so strong his toes curled underneath Arthur's thigh.

"I wanted to come," Merlin said suddenly. Arthur tilted his head, acting as if he was lost in the conversation, but Merlin knew he wasn't. It was something that annoyed Merlin because Arthur forced people to be honest in ways they normally wouldn't be. He acted ignorant and lost when he already knew what they were trying to say; he just wanted to hear it out loud. Merlin also attributed this character flaw to his emotional constipation due to being royal... and having a father like Uther.

"I wanted to come to dinner with you," Merlin continued, poking his toes into Arthur's thigh. "Not just because Gaius intimidated me or because you had a driver pick me up."

"Yeah?"

Merlin looked into Arthur's eyes, which were tired from a day's work, surely, but also bright with something Merlin had trouble identifying. Whatever it was that Arthur wanted, Merlin wanted to give to him. So Merlin smiled and nodded, feeling suddenly shy and out of place. All at once, it didn't seem to matter exactly what was happening, only that it was happening and it involved Arthur. Whatever the details contained, whatever the situation turned out to be, Merlin found that he didn't really care, as long as it had something to do with Arthur being close to him. Although it was all rather pathetic when Merlin thought about it constructively, he still didn't care. He wanted to know who could look at Arthur, bright and smiling, and not want to know him, not want to be closer to him and give him whatever he wanted if he asked for it.

Royalty really did inspire loyalty, and quickly. No wonder Arthur's picture was in the tabloids so often. Not even a week spent with Arthur had Merlin's knees weakening and his heart threatening to secede from his body to take up residence with Arthur--for once in his life, Merlin felt like a girl in the tabloids, utterly taken aback by this glorious contradiction of a man.

"Are you still hungry?" Merlin said, matching Arthur's soft voice.

Arthur shrugged and asked, "Are you?"

"Only for tuna with macaroni and cheese," Merlin replied with a grin.

Merlin wiggled his toes again when Arthur didn't say anything in response. "Do you want to go home?"

Arthur looked thoughtful for a few seconds before shaking his head again and asking, "Drive around with me?"

"You mean, sit in the back and let your driver chauffeur us around?"

"My driver's name is Leon."

"I'm sure he's already given you his opinion of me too, then?"

Arthur grinned. "He has indeed. Apparently, your sass is good for me."

"Rubbish."

Merlin settled back into his seat, moving his limbs around until his feet were lodged safely beneath the prince's thighs, and Arthur's smile stretched wide across his face. Merlin closed his eyes, letting magic fill him up in the way that it wanted to when Arthur was around. He let it swell until it seeped out, and when he opened his eyes, that unfamiliar but desire-filled haze clouded Arthur's vision.

"Let's drive," Merlin said softly. He noted the soft glow of the town car and the way everything felt honey-lazy and warm. Arthur nodded, his body stretching to reach the privacy screen, and tapped twice. The car rolled off immediately, and when Arthur settled back into his seat, Merlin felt the warm weight of his hand on his naked ankle where his trousers had ridden up.

Whatever was happening, Merlin was along for the ride.

<3<3<3

 

A week later, Gwen called.

"You're feeling better."

Merlin frowned and put the kettle on. "Gwen, your conversational skills are lacking. A statement is not a proper greeting for a friend."

"Don't get cheeky with me," Gwen sassed back. "I know you're feeling better because Morgana said you and Prince Arthur went grocery shopping yesterday."

Merlin could sense the impending doom, but as per the norm, he could not tell which direction it was coming from. It was if destiny was cackling at him in all directions.

"Yes?"

Gwen growled into the phone. "Merlin, why haven't you moved out of Prince Arthur's flat?"

"You really shouldn't call him 'Prince' anymore, Gwen. It makes him uncomfortable," Merlin said offhandedly while he reached into the cupboard for tea bags. They were out of English Breakfast, because Arthur refused to buy the cheap kind when the expensive kind was out at the shop.

"Merlin. You're not listening to me," Gwen shouted into the phone, and Merlin startled, dropping the box of tea to the ground.

"Well, I certainly am now."

Gwen sighed into the phone, and Merlin closed his eyes. He knew exactly what she was going to say, and although he wanted to stop her, he couldn't because it needed to be said, if only to make it true.

"You're playing house with the Prince of Albion, Merlin. You're playing house with the very straight, very complicated Prince of Albion and you're going to get hurt."

Merlin took a deep breath. He wasn't ready to stop pretending. He wasn't ready to stop living his own little fantasy. It just wasn't fair. It had only been a couple of weeks, and fairy tale endings needed time. Kilgharrah was always saying destiny needed time to work; wasn't this exactly what he was talking about?

"Merlin, I don't know what's happened physically between the two of you--"

"Nothing! God, Gwen."

"--but he's a prince, Merlin. He's a prince and he has obligations. He is a public figure, and as progressive as this world is, I don't know, I just don't know if he can give you what you deserve," Gwen finished in a quiet voice.

"He's not a prince to me," Merlin said, his own voice sounding meager in his ears. "He's just Arthur."

"Merlin."

"I know," he said. He shook his head and stared at the kettle, its bright red coloring mocking him. "I know."

The silence between them was heavy but not uncomfortable. Merlin took deep breaths, his chest tight with coiled magic and a whole host of other emotions he didn't like to label. He was a writer. He was an elaborate creator of impossible scenarios and fairy tale endings--he was both the dragon and the princess and the knights and all the characters, but never the right ones. Merlin was never one of the characters who got a happy ending, even in his own stories. But he was a dreamer and he had dreamt himself a perfect dream.

"Right," Gwen said over the phone. "You should get out, see the guy at Camelot. Breathe a little air that isn't infested with royal charm."

Merlin groaned. "Gwen, I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Listen, you need to get some perspective, and you need to write or Morgana is going to kill you."

"Which one of those is she most concerned about?" Merlin asked with trepidation, because the relationship between Morgana and Arthur was strange in the very least.

"She spends half the day on the phone with Prince Arthur, and the other half yelling at writers who don't deserve it because she wants to yell at you."

"Right."

Merlin stared at the box of tea on the ground before nodding and picking it up, setting it on the counter. "Do you want me to come with you?"

"No," Merlin said firmly. "I'll be fine. I'll be just fine."

<3<3<3

Merlin spent a good half hour trying to decide if he should wait for Arthur to get home before leaving, or just leave (which was amazing considering it took him over an hour to decide if he was going at all). In the end, he went with writing a note because he was an utter girl and had so many feelings he just wanted to vomit all over himself. Well, Kilgharrah had threatened to scratch out his eyes if he didn't leave something because apparently he was interfering with his destiny. Merlin wasn't sure how someone could interfere with destiny. Didn't destiny just happen?

Merlin read over his note, embarrassed about his chicken scratch handwriting.

Arthur,
Went out tonight. Even unconventional relationships need tending to. Hope your day was good.

-M

At the last minute he wrote a post-script, Gwen's voice cheering him on in his head: p.s. we should talk about me getting back home soon. And then he left, nodding to the security detail on his way out of the building. They knew to let him come and go as he pleased, but they were still creepy as fuck, and Merlin was more than a little afraid of them.

He spent the entire first hour at the club resisting the urge to go back and tear up the note before Arthur could see it. Instead, he sat at the bar and watched the steady flow of queers under the shining lights of the club. There was solace here, in the heavy beat of the club music and the anonymity that cloaked everyone in an intimacy that Merlin had yet to completely understand or explore. The theme of intimacy in anonymity was prevalent in his writings of late, but there was something so elusive about it that made exploring those feelings extremely difficult. But the hushed thrill was thrumming through the club, glitter spinning in the air and falling on starry-eyed queers who were all looking for love, still believing in the fairy tale endings told in their childhood but now with different pronouns. They were a community of romantics, all hellbent on living life to the fullest, and loving until there was nothing left inside of them. How did a community of romantics fall in love with anonymous affection? Was it the lingering shame of oppression? Or maybe it was the sacrifice of self for the sake of community that grounded generations of queers in night clubs with disco and poppers. Was this false freedom a prison or a release from the heteronormative monotony rooted in false promise and broken hearts?

Merlin wasn't sure.

He was sure that he had more than enough to drink to be morose and needed to see the handkerchief man as soon as possible, because then his magic would twist inside of him, dispelling his foul mood in favor of the comforting intimacy the handkerchief man had to offer. Merlin slipped off the stool he was occupying, nodding to Lance, who was just coming onto shift, and moved toward the restrooms. If Gwen had been there, they would have stopped and dragged each other onto the dance floor because the opening lines of "Teeth" by Gaga were bumping throughout the club. Various degrees of queers were screaming and swinging their hips, teeth bared and 'paws' up.

Any other day, it would have been a drunken delight. But tonight, Merlin felt trapped and forced into losing himself because there just wasn't room for him anymore. There wasn't enough room in the world.

<3<3<3

The sinks and urinals, usually full of people in various states of undress, were all empty: the non-depressed queers were dancing with glitter on their eyelashes and joy in their hearts to Lady Gaga and whatever remix the DJ of the club had thrown on next. Merlin looked at himself in the mirror: tired eyes with smudged eyeliner, his v-neck too big on his pale frame, and his jeans frayed at the ends where they barely covered his ratty converse. This wasn't the look of someone who seduced royal beefcakes to the dark side of trouser love. He was just Merlin, an ordinary writer with extraordinary gifts.

He should have been a super hero. Or a dragon. Or a cat.

When Merlin finally turned away from the sinks and mirrors towards the stalls, he found that the loo was not empty. In fact, the stall where the handkerchief man was usually kneeling was occupied. Merlin didn't want to be creepy, but the trousers underneath the stall were familiar and the thought that Merlin could know someone, just by how they kneel behind a metal stall was oddly thrilling. Merlin walked, his steps measured, to the stall and locked himself in.

The handkerchief was lying on the ground, the red embroidered dragon staring up at him. Another familiar sight.

"You know," Merlin said with a quiet that he didn't feel. "I almost wished you weren't here. That I didn't make you come and do this for me."

But even as he said it, his magic was already alight and skittering along his arms, feeling electric. He already had his hand at the hole, slipping his fingers into a gloriously warm mouth. It felt safer there. It felt intimate and safe.

"Why would you come, if I didn't make you?" Merlin whispered as the mouth sucked down, the wet velvet of his mouth siphoning off any remaining doubts Merlin had about why he was here when Arthur was elsewhere.

<3<3<3

Merlin wandered around the city for a while before he went back to Arthur's, trying to puzzle out his magic's reaction to the handkerchief man and Arthur. There was a strange intimacy in both of Merlin's relationships with them, and that seemed to be the only connection. Although, the anonymity was also something of a common link. With the handkerchief man, their sexual encounters were conducted without identity, just intimate desires and mutual need. But with Arthur, they shared anonymity in a different way: Prince Arthur was just Arthur, a gorgeous man with a taste for plain tea and footie games, and Merlin was allowed to feel special in a secret kind of way.

He was Arthur's secret friend. Merlin hadn't been able to leave the house much because of his fatigue, and Arthur was always so busy that most of the time that they spent together was in the comfort of Arthur's flat. Merlin tried not to think about being Arthur's secret queer friend and what that meant. And maybe, there was a sense of magical connection in a different way as well. Whereas Merlin seemed to be able to call the handkerchief man to the club with his gay bat-signal for blow jobs, his magic also saved Arthur in a spontaneous and mysterious way.

But whatever the similarities and differences there were, because the differences were clear when Merlin thought about what it would be like to have Arthur on his knees, his magic presented itself just the same: pushy, uncontrollable and electric.

God, his life really was a terrible sci-fi movie gone gay.

Eventually, Merlin got tired of walking in circles and made his way back up to Arthur's flat. The security detail had changed, the old men in black suits replaced with equally menacing-looking men in black suits. Merlin nodded to them and smiled when one of them brought his wrist up to his mouth and said, "Wizard is a go."

The fact that he was around the Prince of Albion enough to warrant a code name was beyond cool.

The sitting room lights were off, and the kitchen was deserted. Merlin strained his ears down the hall, attempting to hear if Arthur was in his study or his bedroom, but he heard nothing but silence. The television was off, but the light down the second hallway that led to Merlin's guest room and another spare room was on. Merlin walked quietly down the hall towards his room, only to find the light by the bedside glowing from underneath the door. Inside, Arthur was sitting on the bed.

"Arthur?"

The prince barely looked up from where he was staring at the window, his body angled in profile to the door. His face looked pensive, and he smelled clean; Merlin could smell the expensive cologne in Arthur's soap and the sweet, masculine smell of cleanliness. His hair was damp, the darker locks clinging to his forehead and curling at the nape of his neck. Obviously, there was something bothering him. Arthur had never been in Merlin's guest room. Not once in their budding friendship did Arthur spend time with Merlin in his bedroom. It was always the neutral ground of the sitting room and a few moments spent out at The Kitchen, but never had Arthur invited Merlin into his room, and Merlin had never dared let Arthur near his room for fear of Arthur finding out about Merlin's dreams. It was a silly thought, but one that kept Merlin in their neutral spaces as much as possible. And now Arthur was sitting on Merlin's bed with linens that smelled like Merlin, and he looked so good that Merlin wanted to cry at the injustice of the universe.

"Are you all right?" Merlin spoke softly, but his voice felt stilted and not his own. There seemed to be great expanses of silence between them now, whole oceans of division. "Did something happen?"

Arthur shook his head, and Merlin watched his shoulders move under his plain white t-shirt, the back bunching to reveal a small sliver of golden skin above his worn sleep pants. Merlin liked to think of a younger Arthur, still in the awkwardness of youth, getting those pajama pants for a birthday or Christmas. It was the little things that Merlin made up about Arthur's life that scared him because if he did know these things about Arthur, he might die of happiness.

When Arthur didn't say anything, Merlin approached the bed and tentatively sat down. Arthur didn't move, just stared out the window where the bright lights of the city twinkled back at them. When Merlin was little, dreaming about the city, he thought the lights of all the people spoke of dreams and promises. Now that he was older, he wasn't sure what those lights meant, but they felt more and more like loneliness and less like dreams. Merlin let the silence fill him, sitting next to Arthur in his bedroom. There was nothing going on, and it was both peaceful and terrifying. Merlin listened to the sound of Arthur breathing, deep and even breaths.

"I don't want you to see him anymore," Arthur said suddenly. And Merlin turned towards him, but Arthur was still staring out into the darkness.

"What?" Merlin heard himself say dumbly.

Arthur cleared his throat, his voice carefully measured. "The guy at Camelot," Arthur clarified. "The guy you met at the glory hole. I don't want you to see him anymore."

Merlin blinked, his eyes roving over Arthur's profile for some sort of hint at what the hell was going through the prince's head. When he found nothing but blankness, Merlin felt his own anger bubble up inside of him.

"You don't have any right to want that," Merlin said with gritted teeth. "You have no business to dictate that part of my life."

Arthur said nothing, and Merlin felt his outrage shift, feeling grittier and rawer. Whatever was happening here between the two of them was going to either get a name in the here and now, or Merlin was done. Gwen was right.

"I'm not sure who you think you are, but you can't issue a royal decree stopping me from seeing him," Merlin said bitterly. "I'm not your boyfriend, Arthur. For fuck's sake, you're straight! You can't tell me who I can and cannot see just because it makes you uncomfortable. I'm not sure how this has escaped your notice, but I'm gay. I like to fuck men and for them to fuck me. So damn what you want."

Merlin took a heaving breath, realizing that breathing wasn't really happening as he spat at Arthur. God, this felt like how they first met: ire and indignation all messed together in humiliation and shame. Merlin panted into the silence between them, still starting at Arthur's stoic profile.

"Not everything is about you," Merlin lied.

Then Arthur turned to him and everything changed. It was crazy, but it was a testament to how expressive Arthur could be when he let himself. The look in his blue eyes was troubled, but so clearly yearning--so clearly wanting that Merlin could do nothing but kiss him. Because Merlin knew, beyond a doubt, that he could never deny Arthur anything. Not when he looked at him like that, not when he asked in his own emotionally constipated way, because Arthur wasn't really allowed to want anything, not anything real. And so Merlin kissed him, their lips pressed softly together, but not without passion. Merlin tilted his head, pulling back to just breathe against Arthur's parted lips. He watched Arthur's face, still impassive, but Arthur's breath was short and his brow was furrowed, his eyes closed. Merlin felt him breathe against his lips and tried to slow time, slow his beating heart and slow the rush of magic inside of him. It was so intense, but Merlin didn't want to ruin this moment with some sort of magical feat. He just wanted this to be real--nothing supernatural, just two boys kissing.

"Please," Arthur said, and his words breathed across Merlin's lips more solidly and gut-wrenching than anything Merlin had ever felt. Merlin felt himself nodding, pressing tiny, insignificant kisses to Arthur's lips.

"Okay," Merlin kept saying, over and over again. Their kisses didn't get any more elaborate than that, just two lips meeting in rapid succession, until Merlin felt like the moment would last, felt like time would slow for them until they figured out what was happening.

"Lay back," Merlin said, and Arthur opened his eyes. Merlin tried to communicate everything in that one glance, every 'please' and every 'trust me'. He willed Arthur to listen. Moments passed before Arthur nodded and laid back, his body resting on top of the duvet. Merlin smiled, soft and unduly pleased as he crawled over Arthur's body, making sure to not to touch him too much. Merlin settled next to him, their bodies inches apart.

He toed off his shoes and shifted until he was comfortable before he reached between the gap between them and grabbed Arthur's hand. Merlin listened until Arthur's breathing slowed, until their hearts calmed, before he waved his hand and let his magic turn off the light, plunging them into comfortable darkness. Merlin promptly ignored Kilgharrah's scratching at his door. If that bloody cat wanted to rave on and on about destiny, Merlin was pretty sure that lying in bed next to Arthur was pretty close to any sort of epic destiny Merlin was supposed to achieve.

<3<3<3

When they woke up, Merlin couldn't help but smile as Arthur's face was so peaceful and rested next to his own. They hadn't shifted in the night, still lying on opposite sides of the bed. But, the sun was shining through the window, and the light solidified everything into reality. There was no hiding. This was real.

Breakfast was tea and toast, with Merlin bitching about raspberry jam and Arthur laughing, head thrown back and completely giddy in a way that had Merlin so fucking delighted that he had to kiss him. And he did; Merlin kissed Arthur in the kitchen over tea and it was perfect. Arthur looked shocked at first, that stupidly cold expression slotting onto his face before it slid off and a shy, honest smile appeared. Merlin grinned, stupidly, before pulling Arthur over to the couch to get crumbs in the sofa cushions and watch Doctor Who reruns on the telly.

Merlin wasn't sure what kind of strings Arthur pulled for the next three days, but Arthur didn't leave the flat for anything, and they did nothing but talk, drink tea, and make food. Arthur would take telephone calls, but they were always short and most of them were from Gaius, whereupon Arthur would just shake his head and tell Gaius that he was busy. Merlin would wrap his arms around Arthur, winding around the Prince's broad back until he would hang up the phone with a small smile. They would head back to the couch and tangle up in each other for hours on end, Kilgharrah sitting at their feet looking like the cat that got the cream.

It was a like a thousand first dates in rapid succession--each little nuance Merlin learned about Arthur made his heart ache and his magic burst in tiny little bubbles of ecstatic flashes of gold that would lift furniture off the ground or cause the various plants in Arthur's flat to suddenly bloom. Each time, Arthur would laugh and kiss him until he was breathless. He learned more about himself and Arthur in those three days than he had ever learned about anyone in their entire life. He shared about growing up with just his mother, and Arthur would speak quietly about the absence of his mother and the gaping hole of happiness that she left inside his father.

Merlin felt drunk,and in some ways he was. He was intoxicated by all the knowledge he had of Arthur and all the things he was allowed to share with him because Arthur wanted to know everything about Merlin, from his favorite novel to his favorite word and what he was like as a child.

There was nothing there in those three days but Arthur and Merlin. Gwen's phone calls went unanswered, Morgana's emails left unopened and anything pressing was handled by Gaius, Arthur's laughter tittered across the phone as he told Gaius to take care of it all. And even lying next to Arthur, adjusting to his soft snoring and the fact that Merlin kicked like a mule in his sleep. They adjusted to each other in those days and surprisingly, Merlin didn't want anything more. He didn't crave Arthur's body as much he was just enthralled with everything else he was able to know about Arthur.

Thankfully, Arthur was a heavy sleeper, because Merlin's dreams didn't seem as satisfied about their situation as Merlin was. He still dreamt about blurry reality, the handkerchief man's and Arthur's face blending back and forth together until Merlin woke, gasping in his come-stained pajama pants. He would sneak out of bed then, pushing Arthur's heavy limbs off of him if they were tangled together, and change in the bathroom.

If Arthur noticed, he never said anything, and Merlin chose to ignore the insistent pull of his magic. Some things were more important than destiny--at least, that was what Merlin said to himself. Kilgharrah, thankfully, didn't say a word. Merlin might have had him skinned if he had.

<3<3<3

Just as life had surprisingly stalled for them, it sped back up again.

"I have to leave today," Arthur said against the back of Merlin's neck, and Merlin stilled. "Gaius doesn't think spending time with you is a good enough reason to blow off state business."

Merlin scoffed as Arthur tightened his arms around his middle. The spooning was new. They had slept tangled together, but they were both awake now, lying in bed and waiting for sleep to come. They had arranged each other this way, Arthur's face nuzzled against the back of Merlin's neck, and their ankles tangled together in a mess of boyish skin. It felt nice to be this comfortable with someone. It felt incredible to feel Arthur's heartbeat against his back.

"I told him that he would have to meet you to decide that," Arthur said with amusement. Merlin smiled. Of course Arthur would mouth off to Gaius about him. Of course. "He was smarmy."

"I don't think Gaius can be smarmy," Merlin said.

"Lies. Gaius is the smarmiest person I know," Arthur breathed against his neck. "Except for you."

"Oh, how you woo me!"

Arthur chuckled against him but didn't say anything. Merlin understood the moment for what it was: it was his chance to get used to the idea of Arthur leaving the comfortable bubble they had been living in for three days. He would have to talk to other people. God, he would have to deal with Morgana and Gwen now.

Merlin groaned. "Morgana is going to be unbearable."

"Do you want me to have her arrested?"

"For what? I'm not sure being mean to the Prince's boyfriend is a punishable offense," Merlin said, before he realized exactly what he had just said.

"Boyfriend?" Arthur said softly, and Merlin held his breath, wishing he could go back in time and take back what he said.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to assume--" Merlin stuttered out. But he did, didn't he? If they weren't boyfriends, then what were they?

Arthur moved his hand, and Merlin clenched his eyes shut, but Arthur's palm just relocated itself underneath Merlin's shirt. Merlin allowed himself to breathe again, concentrating on the lovely warmth of Arthur's palm and how it rose and fell with Merlin's breath.

"Boyfriend," Arthur said as he pressed kisses along the nape of Merlin's neck. "Yes, I think that's about right."

Merlin laughed, a hysterical little puff of happiness, as Arthur continued to press chaste kisses to his skin.

"But it is a punishable offense, it's called harassment," Arthur said. "And if you're going to be the Prince's boyfriend, then there will be all sorts of that."

Merlin paused. They hadn't talked about this, about what happened outside the flat and how they translated there."Am I the prince's boyfriend?" Merlin asked, instead of the million different questions he wanted to answer. "Or am I just Arthur's?"

"You can be whoever you want to be," Arthur whispered, his arms tightening around him, and Merlin understood the sentiment. "But eventually, you'll have to be both. Secrets don't keep in the royal family for too long."

Merlin nodded. He hadn't honestly thought about it. But when he thought about Sophia, her pretty face plastered over every surface of the newsstands, it made him shudder. Reality felt daunting and suddenly too big for just two people.

"Don't worry about it just yet," Arthur said, his palm rubbing circles on Merlin's belly as if to pacify him. It seemed to be working, because Merlin felt his breath return to its regular programming. "It's a ways off. It's just us for now, yeah?"

Arthur sounded so unsure that Merlin moved his hand until it was entwined with Arthur's own on his belly, and he squeezed. "Yeah, just us."

"God," Arthur said with a deep breath, as he pulled Merlin closer to him, if that was even possible. "I feel like I've known you my entire life."

"It does feel that way, doesn't it?"

"It's strange, but then again, it's not like you're a normal bloke."

Merlin laughed. "Magic complicates most things."

"Does it normally affect..." Arthur trailed off, and Merlin squeezed his hand.

"No," Merlin said. "I've never had magic affect much of my emotions or another's."

Merlin thought of the handkerchief man and the way he had always shown up whenever Merlin had wanted him to. "I mean, magic can make things happen. Magic can make sure people are in a certain place, but it leaves a trace. Kilgharrah calls it destiny."

"Destiny, huh?"

"Yeah, but I tend to ignore him."

Arthur laughed, and Merlin suddenly felt distracted by the way Arthur's hand was casually moving lower to trace the arch of Merlin's hip bones. They still hadn't done anything but kiss, and even that had been fairly chaste. Merlin felt his breath catch, and Arthur's hand stilled.

"It's probably best to ignore your talking cat," Arthur said casually, and Merlin could feel his measured breath.

"Maybe," Merlin said, but part of him wondered if Kilgharrah was right, if this was his great destiny, to fall in love with a Prince and to change the face of public royalty forever. Goodness. "But he's not always wrong."

"Hmm," Arthur murmured against his neck, nuzzling the tender space behind Merlin's ear. He moved his hand back up to Merlin's belly, and Merlin took a deep breath.

"It's okay," Merlin whispered. "It's okay to touch me, if you want."

Arthur didn't answer, pretending to sleep, but Merlin just squeezed his hand and let himself settle back into Arthur's embrace. They were taking it slow. And if Arthur had never done anything with men before, not that he had told Merlin that, but Merlin didn't know, and if he hadn't yet, then Merlin could understand how daunting that could be. He could understand Arthur's resistance.

He could wait forever for Arthur if he needed to. And as scary as that thought was, Merlin recognized it as true. Instead of fretting over it, he let Arthur's breath against his neck, Merlin’s hand on Arthur’s bare skin and Arthur’s steady beating heart against Merlin's back lull him to sleep.

<3<3<3

Merlin watched Arthur get ready, trailing him into his bedroom and lying on his bed. Immediately upon wrapping himself in Arthur's duvet, Merlin decided that he was never leaving.

"We're sleeping in your bed tonight," Merlin said aloud, pressing his face into Arthur's pillow. They smelled of Arthur's shampoo and his cologne. "It's comfier."

"You're just tired of the sun hitting your face in the morning," Arthur said from inside his closet, which for the record, was larger than Merlin's entire bedroom at his and Will's flat. "You lazy arse."

"Bollocks," Merlin said as he rolled over and faced Arthur, who was holding up two shirts in the air and standing in front of the mirror, face scrunched up as if choosing clothing for the day was a very hard and important decision. "Dress yourself often?"

Arthur threw him a glare and stripped off his shirt. Merlin enjoyed the view of Arthur's chest, his muscles flexing as Arthur slipped on an undershirt and a soft blue button-up. It complimented his eyes, even if it was a dreadfully boring color. Merlin licked his lips when Arthur's sleep pants slipped down his hips, revealing the tight cut of his hips and the delicious trail of hair that led to dirtier thoughts.

Arthur cleared his throat, and Merlin looked up, blushing. He'd been caught.

"See something you like?" Arthur teased, but his voice was rough. Merlin nodded dumbly, completely captivated by the desire clearly visible on Arthur's face.

"Well," Arthur said, looking away and leaving Merlin practically gasping for breath. "I'm not sure how I feel about being objectified."

Merlin laughed. "Says the man who did a nearly pornographic shoot for Vanity Fair."

Arthur popped his head around the corner of the closet, trousers unbuttoned, but not enough to reveal if he was wearing boxers or briefs. Merlin pouted.

"It was not pornographic," Arthur said as he did up his trousers and picked out a tie. Merlin scoffed and rolled his eyes, trying to ignore his persistent erection. "It was artistic."

"You keep telling yourself that, but I know plenty of sexually repressed boys who wanked to that spread."

"Speaking for yourself again," Arthur grumbled as he fought with his tie in the mirror. Merlin giggled as Arthur tied a truly dreadful tie and pulled the knot out with enough zeal to make Merlin get up from the comfort of the bed and pad over to Arthur.

"Let me help."

"What? Do you have much experience tying ties?"

Merlin slapped at Arthur's hands. "Yes," Merlin said with a roll of his eyes. "I worked in a men's clothing department during Uni."

"There are so many jokes that I am refraining from making right now," Arthur said with a smile, and Merlin grinned as he knotted the paisley tie with ease. "Many of them referring to how gay you are."

"Oh shut it," Merlin replied as he tightened the tie and buttoned the holes on Arthur's shirt. "You may not be gayer than me, but you certainly are gay for me. And that is almost as bad."

Arthur laughed, pulling Merlin closer until they were kissing. Maybe it was the domestic nature of their morning, or how bloody gorgeous Arthur looked, or the fact that Merlin was extremely sexually frustrated and he hadn't had a wank in forever, but their normally chaste kisses turned dirty. Merlin's tongue traced the seal of Arthur's mouth before plunging in, curling around the back of Arthur's teeth and pulling a moan from the Prince's mouth that had Merlin's hands scrambling for purchase against the smooth pressed surface of Arthur's chest. It didn't take long for Arthur to give as good as he was getting, their tongues sliding wetly against each other in a truly filthy way. Merlin moaned, his hands curling in the wet curls of Arthur's hair and pulling them until they were flush, hips slotting together as Merlin sucked on Arthur's tongue until Arthur grabbed Merlin's arse, dragging their hips against each other in a more deliberate manner. They made out, sloppy kisses that left Merlin gasping for more until Arthur pulled away, their hips still moving in tight circles that were just not enough. Merlin groaned at the loss.

"I have to go to work," Arthur gasped against his lips, their foreheads pressed together.

Merlin nodded, leaning in to nip at Arthur's swollen lips. Arthur moaned and kissed him again, taking his mouth with enough force that Merlin couldn't do anything but scrape his fingernails down Arthur's neck, the pleasure from Arthur's kiss pooling hot and heavy in his groin. His magic sparked against them, and it was Arthur's turn to moan, his hands squeezing at the globes of Merlin's arse.

"Work," Merlin said when they broke apart again.

Arthur nodded and took several heaving breaths before Merlin pushed him away. "Go," Merlin said. "Go before I call Gaius myself and tell him you're too busy shagging your boyfriend to run a country today."

Arthur laughed, nervous but full of joy. He nodded and pulled Merlin back to him, wrapping his arms around him and holding them together. Merlin breathed him in, reveling in the fact that he could do this and it was all right. He could touch Arthur, this prince of a man, and it was perfectly acceptable.

"Later," Arthur promised with a low voice. "Promise me."

Merlin laughed, their lips meeting for brief, teasing kisses.

"You're the busy man," Merlin said. "You promise me."

"God, I'll be home early."

Merlin laughed and pushed Arthur away. Arthur grabbed a suit jacket and fled the room. Merlin heard the door slam shut, and he breathed, looking at the bed and then back at the door to the bedroom, before he crawled up onto the bed and had the best wank of his ever-loving life. Arthur's promise echoed in his head as Merlin jacked off, hand flying over his cock in desperation to just come.

When he did come, leaving streaks of white on Arthur's dark duvet, he pictured Arthur's lips stretched wide around his cock, eyes blown black with arousal, and didn't even feel ashamed when he realized it was an image from his dreams.

<3<3<3

After cleaning up his wank session as much as possible, before finally resorting to magicking the stain away, Merlin showered and packed up to the coffee shop around the corner. Maybe he needed a change of venue to write. Merlin wasn't sure that Kilgharrah's smug, furry face was a writing incentive because it only made him think of Arthur and his destiny. It was so difficult with Arthur's promise hanging over his head and thoroughly distracting Merlin from writing because he kept getting hard. The nearest coffee shop was a couple of blocks away, but the day was nice enough that Merlin decided to walk, pulling on a long-sleeved v-neck and comfortable jeans with his trainers. At the last minute, he pulled out the handkerchief man's gift, fingering the smooth cotton before using his magic to make the handkerchief longer so that it wrapped around his neck like a neckerchief, the tail end hung over his shirt and the blue embroidered dragon contrasting brightly with the red color of the cloth. Surprisingly, instead of making Merlin feel dirty, it made him feel motivated to write.

He spent the rest of the day writing, bent over his laptop and going through enough cups of tea to be shameful. Thankfully the barista was kind and brought him tea without Merlin having to ask for it. Before he knew it, there were almost ten thousand words added to his word count, and the clock was quickly approaching seven. Merlin figured it was late enough for Arthur to think about coming home, depending on what 'early' meant when Arthur rarely came home before nine and usually closer to midnight. Merlin packed up anyway, stuffing his laptop away and tipping the barista heavily before making his way back home.

Merlin took the stairs two at a time when he got to Arthur's flat. He resisted the urge to ask the bodyguards if Arthur was home because that was just cheating. He made his way into the apartment, noting the briefcase on the breakfast bar.

"Arthur?"

There was no answer, but the light in the living room spoke for itself. Merlin looked around before heading down the hallway that led to Arthur's bedroom and study. The bedroom door was open, but the study was closed, and the light was leaking through the space between the door and the floor. Merlin went to open it when he heard voices, raised and obviously in a heated argument. Merlin pressed his ear to the door, ignoring the fact that he was blatantly eavesdropping. Whatever the problem was, it was preventing Merlin from having sex with Arthur, and that was enough of his business for Merlin not to feel too bad about it.

"Arthur, you're being unreasonable," a voice that sounded like Leon's shouted. Merlin frowned. Merlin hadn't heard Leon call Arthur anything but 'Highness' and 'Prince'. Merlin pressed closer to the door, using his magic to amplify the sound, but Arthur didn't speak. Instead, he heard Leon again.

"This is not some twink you sucked off in a loo stall, Arthur!" Leon hissed. Merlin felt his breath catch at Leon's harsh tone and Merlin pressed closer to the door. "This isn't a one off you can ignore and laugh off when someone asks. He fucking lives here. He lives here and he's going to want something before long--something you cannot give him. You can't just keep a plaything at your flat and not expect the press to get a hold of the story soon enough. And if not the press, your father. I'm sure he'd be pleased to know that you have a live-in boyfriend who writes porn for a living."

"Stop," Arthur said, but his voice was faint through the door of his study.

"He's a writer, for fuck's sake! He's a poor commoner, and as much as you adore his companionship or the sex or whatever, he has a price. They all have a price. You should know that by now," Leon said, his voice softer and regretful. "You can't do this, Arthur."

"Enough."

"Arthur--"

"I said enough!" Arthur practically shouted, and Merlin cringed, backing away from the door and down the hallway as fast as he could. It was apparent that Merlin wasn't the first bloke to catch Arthur's fancy, and they hadn't even done more than kiss. Who knew what else had happened with the others. Or how many there had been. Or what he paid them to keep quiet and out of the tabloids. Leon was right, Merlin wasn't just a fucking twink for Arthur to play around with. He wasn't to be bought like a cheap whore.

A surge of nausea surfaced, and Merlin gasped for air as he stumbled back to the spare bedroom. All he could imagine were lines of men just like him, naive and awestruck by Prince Arthur's looks and charm before being blindsided with his kind eyes and his capable hands. Merlin cursed, his hands shaking as he went to pack up his shit. He couldn't be here anymore. He couldn't be another notch on Arthur's bedpost, another lie for the royal family to keep buried in the back of the closet. He wasn't ashamed of himself or anything he had ever done, but now, being Prince Arthur's twink of the month was sickening and ugly. Merlin closed his eyes, letting his magic expel angry energy into ripping his clothes out of the closet and the drawers, folding them and piling them into the suitcases. He threw the rest of his things in his messenger bag, stuffing his laptop and his notebooks into the many pockets of the leather satchel. When he was done, he surveyed his belongings laid out on the bed and ignored the various articles of clothing that littered the floor that were obviously Arthur's.

There were only two suitcases on the bed. It amazed him that he could have spent weeks here and not be able to leave a trace behind, everything packed up in suitcases to be carted away and forgotten about.

Disposable and completely concealable.

He was out the door before Leon and Arthur were done arguing in the study, and as he walked down the crowded street, his bags trailing behind him, it began to rain.

<3<3<3

Hours later, Merlin wandered to Camelot because he didn't know what else to do. He couldn't write. He didn't want to stay home in his flat and mope either, because it had been hours, not days, and it shouldn't feel like this. He felt listless and alone and so humiliated. And to make him feel worse, the handkerchief man was already there, as if he knew what Merlin was feeling and felt obligated to help.

It was sick and twisted, but Merlin let his magic surge red as he entered the stall and looked at the man on the other side, handkerchief already beneath his knees. The cloth was lying on the ground, the red embroidered dragon staring up at him. Another familiar sight.

It was silly, but then in that moment, everything seemed to click. Dragons. Pendragon. Right.

Merlin sank to his knees and pulled his own handkerchief out. The large blue dragon was embroidered neatly, and it amazed Merlin how he didn't realize it before. The dragon, this dragon, was the Pendragon symbol. Of course it was. It had been for thousands of years and it was plastered all over the UK. The royal family of all of Albion, ancient as dragons.

"Christ," Merlin whispered. "You're everywhere."

The sheer coincidence astounded him. The thought that Arthur might be behind the stall was absurd. Prince Arthur in Camelot? The thought was beyond laughable even if Will swore he saw a Prince Arthur look-a-like before. Will saw famous people everywhere and every single time Merlin was sure that Will was hallucinating just to make his life more exciting. No, the only plausible explanation was that handkerchief man was one of Arthur's former lovers or maybe just an obsessed fan. Half of the UK was in love with Prince Arthur and his perfect smile. Every gay man was still holding out hope that Arthur would wake up on the gay side of the bed one morning, especially with his lack of public affection and heaps of queer rumors.

Not that they weren't true because obviously Prince Arthur was a big 'mo.

Never-the-less, the coincidence was ridiculous. But, stranger things had happened to Merlin. Hell, Merlin's entire life was stranger than anyone’s coincidences.

And now, he and the handkerchief man had so much in common: they were both obsessed with the same bloke. Merlin wondered if the man on the other side of the stall was one of Arthur's conquests, if Arthur had given him a Pendragon handkerchief as a token of affection, to placate him. Merlin felt ill. Even if the handkerchief man was just a fan, just an insane man who carried around handkerchiefs of the Pendragon line, they still were victims of the same smile--the same Pendragon charm.

"I hate you," he said desperately. "I hate you so fucking much."

He fucked the mouth hard that night. He got off on the way he choked the man on the other side of the stall with his cock until the man couldn't breathe. He got off on the image of Arthur doing the same thing to the same anonymous bloke, as if that brought him closer to Arthur, as if it brought Merlin closer to having something more than just a passing fancy with a prince.

Merlin fucked the mouth until they both came with wild, broken sounds. He fucked until they were both spent--wasted.

And then he sat down and cried, letting the the handkerchief man suck on his fingers and hold his hand, as if that would make him feel better. As if any of what they did together could make up for the shame Merlin felt and the anger and the hurt. It was beyond him.

Everything in the last three weeks seemed beyond time, a long time ago from where Merlin was, and the future was unrecognizable.

<3<3<3

"What happened?"

Merlin stared at his laptop and refused to meet Will's insistent stare. He didn't want to talk about it. Hell, if he wanted to, then he would have called Gwen or Morgana or Arthur because they all had left lengthy messages on his voicemail. But Merlin stopped checking his messages days ago, when Arthur had left a message pleading, fucking pleading Merlin to call him back after he had obviously puzzled out Merlin's reaction and connected the dots. He wasn't just a pretty face apparently.

"Merlin," Will said again from Merlin's doorway. He was beginning to sound more and more like his mother. "You've been writing for days, which is okay, but Morgana says that you've stopped talking to her other than sending her documents. Gwen says you've been avoiding her too."

Merlin closed his eyes. "Will, I don't want to talk about it."

"Mate, I get that. But something is most fucking certainly fucked if Prince Prat called my cell phone and left four messages," Will said with a tone that allowed no room for excuses.

"Arthur called?"

"Yes," Will said carefully, and Merlin wanted to rip out his vocal cords. "Do you want to hear what he had to say?"

A new, sharp burst of pain swelled in Merlin's chest. This fairy tale was clearly out of his control, and it was becoming apparent that he wasn't the princess or the prince but the dragon or maybe the villain. Merlin opened a new window on his computer, a new story already developing in his mind. The pain was really good for his writing, although Morgana was already commenting on his darker tone. Merlin was learning to ignore her in a completely new way.

"No," Merlin said. "No. Tell him to stop bothering you."

"I don't need help telling him off, but I'd like to know what number he did on you."

"He didn't do anything," Merlin gritted out.

There was a pause, and then, "Was that the problem?"

Merlin saw red. "Fucking let it go! What part of not wanting to talk about it do you have a problem understanding? For fuck's sake, Will!"

Will held up his hands, and Merlin shook his head, trying to clear it into a productive space, but all he could see was Arthur. Always Arthur.

"Want some tea?"

Merlin put his head on his laptop, the keys pressing against his forehead, and breathed deeply. Every breath felt forced and painful.

"Yeah," he said. "Tea would be great."

<3<3<3

Two days later, Merlin was pretty sure his short story collection was finished. He sent his final edits to Morgana, ignoring the body of her last email, which ranted and raved about how if Arthur called her one more time she was going to chop something important off. Apparently Arthur was in Sweden doing something important or he would 'knock some sense into Merlin himself', but Merlin tried to tune out the news as much as possible. If Arthur wanted to find him, he would. He was the fucking Prince of Albion, for Christ's sake. Merlin was sure Arthur had access to any information he wanted.

Plus, it wasn't like Merlin didn't know he was in Sweden. It was hard to ignore the press, who couldn't get enough of a ragged looking Prince Arthur in any circumstance. Merlin saw the same pictures the rest of the world saw, snapshots of Arthur stepping off the plane in Sweden looking rough around the edges, as if a large bottle of booze had done him wrong, or he hadn't slept in days. A large and petty part of Merlin hoped that Arthur was feeling the way he was feeling, rug ripped out from underneath him and positively aching inside.

He showered for the first time in five days and ate food that wasn't made, and by made he meant burnt, by Will. It didn't make him feel better. He still felt restless and uncontrollable. No matter how many words he wrote, or how many characters he utterly destroyed, he still felt used and cheap. For everything he tried to get out of his head, he couldn't push away the feel of Arthur's body wrapped around him or the soft corners of his lips. Part him thought he would be doomed for life, forever haunted by images of his brief delusional romance with the Prince. The other parts of him told him to get a grip because it wasn't the end of the world.

And it wasn't. It wasn't like Merlin had been in love with him. They had only known each other for a couple of weeks, and their meeting before had inspired only loathing. It was just a fling, a short lived affair that had never really got off the ground. Just because Arthur was a prince didn't mean it had to change the nature of their relationship.

"It was nothing," Merlin said aloud.

But even when he said it out loud, it felt like a paper-thin lie on his tongue.

“You're talking to yourself again,” Kilgharrah said from behind him. “I knew love was supposed to make you crazy but aren't you're taking the colloquialism a bit seriously?”

Merlin took a deep breath and leaned against the door jamb.

“You can't ignore me,” Kilgharrah continued.

Merlin shrugged. He actually had been. It was easy to dodge the furry animal when he had that look about him. Merlin was getting used to accidentally locking him in the bathroom or Will's room.

“You can't ignore your destiny.”

Merlin whipped around. “I'm so damn tired of you ranting and raving about my destiny. What the fuck do you know about destiny? You're a cat. I know you think you're some sort of prodigal being but you're a cat.”

“Destiny doesn't-”

“Fuck destiny,” Merlin said, shaking his head and grabbing a jacket. He pocketed his cellphone and turned away from where Kilgharrah was sitting. He fled the flat, slamming as many doors as possible because he didn't want Kilgharrah following him. He needed some air and to finally give Gwen a call because she probably had attacked the entirety of the royal family to get information about what had happened between Merlin and Arthur. She hated to be left out of the loop, and Morgana probably wasn't forthcoming with details, if Arthur had even given her any. Merlin didn't want to know what Arthur had told Morgana because his nightmares were enough to keep him busy. The truth was probably worse, and the thought of a cruel Arthur was enough to make him want to never speak to Morgana or Arthur again. Merlin wanted to remember Arthur as kind, not the man who hid behind the shadow of the crown and used young men for their hearts and their bodies before throwing money at them to make them disappear.

Gwen picked up on the second ring.

"Where have you been?"

"Around," Merlin said sheepishly. "I'm sorry I didn't call. I was trying to get my shit together."

"Merlin," Gwen said blandly, and Merlin's insides practically curdled. It amazed him how Gwen could sound both disappointed and thoughtful. The real reason he didn't call her was because he knew he would cry. She was like that person who, no matter how much you'd healed and got past whatever was hurting you, brought the pain to the surface because you wanted her to cure it. And he did. Merlin wanted nothing more than for Gwen to fix it all. He just wasn't sure she could.

"You were right," was all he said. Gwen gasped over the phone, and Merlin gulped back tears. The wind was sharp around him, and Merlin took a deep breath and turned the corner, walking towards the small park.

"Oh baby," she said in a whisper. "What happened?"

"God, I was so stupid. I thought I was special, and he made me feel like I was, Gwen. He really did," Merlin cringed as the tears fell down his face. He really was pathetic. "But I was just another twink to go down in history as falling for Arthur, Prince of Prats."

Merlin laughed, but it was hollow, and he heard Gwen coo over the phone. "Merlin, I'm sure he didn't mean it like that."

"Oh he didn't mean a damn thing, Gwen. He didn't mean anything he said, and that's the worst part of it all, the way he just lied through his perfect teeth."

There was a pause and then Gwen, perfect Gwen, bit the bullet and said, "Did you sleep with him?"

"No," Merlin said as he angrily wiped at his face. "I didn't. Because I thought this was new to him. I thought we were taking it slow because he was scared. Obviously, it was just because he didn't want me and felt guilty for keeping me around so long, or because he was afraid he'd have to pay me off to keep quiet. Wouldn't want the press to get a hold of one of Prince Arthur's conquests, would we? Wouldn't want the world to know that one of the members of the royal family was a fucking faggot. God, I wish I would have let that fucking tiger eat him. None of this would have ever happened if my magic hadn't fucked everything up."

"We don't get to choose who we love," Gwen said softly.

"I don't love him."

"Merlin--"

"No, Gwen," Merlin said forcefully as he sat down on the park bench, watching the children on the other side of the park. "It was just a boyish crush that went too far. I mean, he's a prince after all."

"I guess it could have been worse," Gwen said, after a few moments of silence.

"Yeah?"

"Oh yeah, you could have been his baby mama."

Merlin laughed, his voice brittle, but his smile real. "Thank fuck that's not my destiny."

"Oh baby," she said. "Everything will be okay."

Merlin shook his head and took a deep breath. The air was getting colder and it felt fresher than before.

"How's Morgana?"

Gwen laughed and sighed. "Well, she spends all her time on the phone yelling at Prince Arthur's personal attendant, Gary something."

"Gaius," Merlin said automatically.

"Right," Gwen said in a resigned sort of voice that cut Merlin a little deeper than it should have. "Anyway, when she's not trying to meddle in your business by trying to figure out what happened with you and Arthur, she's reading your new sections and crying, or calling up the marketing department and bitching to them about the LGBTQ market and asking if anyone thinks queers will kill themselves if they read your book."

"Great," Merlin grumbled. "She's going to try and blame the rate of queer suicide on me, is she?"

"It appears so. It seems that your book is so raw and truthful that queers will literally leap from buildings after reading it."

"It is pretty depressing."

Gwen hummed. "I don't think so."

"You've read it?" Merlin was surprised; Gwen never had time to read Merlin's work. When she did have time to read, she spent her time reading manuscripts that Morgana hadn't looked at, just to make sure they hadn't missed anything good. Gwen was like that, always looking to give new talents a chance.

"I was curious," Gwen said shyly. "I hope you don't mind. But Morgana spent the first twenty minutes after the first chapter bawling her eyes out."

Merlin paused before asking, "Did you like it?"

"God, Merlin. How could you ask that? You know how good it is. It tore me apart."

"Yeah," Merlin said, looking out at the couples who were walking around the park, hands tightly clasped. "Yeah. Me too."

<3<3<3

That night, he tried to stay in and start on his novel, but the place in the story was too happy, the themes too raw to touch on, and so he made his way out of the flat, ignoring Will's raised eyebrow. But as he waited in the loo stall of Camelot's, the handkerchief man never came. Something twisted inside of Merlin, and it was ugly and resentful but freeing.

He spent a couple of hours meditating, getting a level feel for his magic and noting how listless it felt--as if it had lost its purpose. A voice inside his head that sounded suspiciously like Kilgharrah wondered if maybe part of his magic had suffered with Arthur's abrupt departure from Merlin's life. His magic always seemed to hum when Arthur was around. And it was hard for Merlin to ignore how good he felt when Arthur was near him, as if his magic was just on the surface and felt everything that was happening with Merlin. Merlin had felt closer to the earth when he spent time with Arthur, and that was just a coincidence.

It had nothing to do with destiny.

"Destiny can blow me," Merlin said when his magic felt heavy on his mind and he broke the connection, realizing that the handkerchief man wasn't coming when he was being called. The thought was both comforting and unsettling.

He made his way out of the club, nodding to Lance, who looked tired but happy. Merlin thought of Gwen's smiling face. She deserved a fairy tale ending more than anyone. More than Merlin, that was for sure. And if one of them got to be happy, if there could only be one, then Merlin was glad it was her. As long as she didn't mind him getting rip-roaring drunk at her reception and sleeping with one of Lance's brothers.

Lance waved back, holding up a shot glass in invitation.

Merlin paused for two seconds before moving towards him and taking the offered shot. He spent the night dancing, glitter falling on his eyelashes and hips swiveling in the hot air of the club with every other romantic, praying for romance to find him. It was a return to self maybe; at least it felt like one as he let alcohol burn his throat and loosen his hips until he danced the night away, too distracted by his own emotional rebirth to worry about the people around him.

He danced straight on until closing, then let Lance take him home and spill him into bed.

<3<3<3

It was surprisingly easy to avoid Arthur. Since Arthur was constantly busy doing something important, he had less time to annoy Merlin with voicemails and rarely had time to stop by Merlin's apartment, because even if Arthur was cruel in his pursuit, he wasn't cruel enough to sick the paps on Merlin. And because Arthur was constantly being followed by one form of the paparazzi or another, he couldn't run the risk of one of them following him to Merlin's apartment. But Arthur did enough damage with his voicemails and messages relayed through Morgana.

But life moved on, and as the country prepared for another UN summit, Merlin got less phone calls from Arthur himself and more from Gaius, whose voice was gruff and sarcastic. But the messages made Merlin laugh:

"Mr. Emrys, this is the twelfth message I have left with your voicemail in the past two weeks. This may surprise you, but I do not enjoy calling you nor do I enjoy conversing with your voicemail or that horrid flatmate of yours. Please call the prince back because he's driving me insane."

Each message was much more relaxed, and Merlin was getting used to Gaius' dry humor and deep voice. Gwen said it was unhealthy to enjoy torturous voicemails from past loves, even the past loves that were too busy to leave messages themselves and had their personal aides do it for them. Will insisted that Arthur was mentally deficient if he still thought Merlin wasn't going to turn him into a toad if he came around. Merlin just took deep breaths and tried not to fall farther into love with Arthur than he already was, because even if Arthur had gutted him, Merlin wanted to believe that Arthur had never chased after twinks in the past only to hush them with money. But then again, maybe Arthur was just trying to get a hold of him to make sure Merlin didn't talk.

Merlin cringed when he listened to the messages, waiting for Gaius to offer him money and wondering how many pounds it would take for Merlin to stop thinking about Arthur and his disarming smile.

"Want to go out?"

Merlin lifted his head from where he was annotating Dancer from the Dance. Will was leaning against the kitchen door jam, hip cocked and holding a liter of the cheapest whiskey Merlin had ever seen.

"We don't have to drink shit whiskey anymore," Merlin said, ignoring Will's question. "I've got a book advance."

"Yeah, but the book was so bloody depressing that I'm afraid if I drink with its money, I might off myself."

"Suicide is not funny, Will."

Will shrugged. "Let's go out."

Merlin lay back down and stared at the ceiling. He hadn't gone out since the night the handkerchief man hadn't shown up at Camelot. That was almost a month ago. It had been one hell of a month, between Arthur's phone calls and Morgana getting the book signed on with several large bookstores with the possibility of a contract for his novel and his poetry collection if they could market the short story collection first. In between it all, Merlin was trying to focus his magic more, and Will was annoying as ever. But it was productive, and his writing groove had come back, without the handkerchief man's help, because it always did come back. It was the life of a writer, and no matter how many writing ruts Merlin went through, he always forgot when the writing came back naturally. So every time he got blocked, he panicked until nothing else worked but a forceful method because he never remembered the slow return of natural writing.

Everything seemed quiet now.

"So?"

Merlin shook his head and sat up, looking at Will, who had uncapped the liter and was looking as if he were ready to chug if given the command. Merlin grinned.

"I don't have anything else to do," Merlin said with a shrug, and Will grinned back, taking a few gulps of the bottle before cursing and sputtering. Merlin laughed, almost falling off the couch at Will's face.

"Straight," Will choked out. "No chaser."

Merlin laughed and heaved himself off the couch. "I see that. Now, go call Gwen. I'm off to the showers."

<3<3<3

By 11:45, Will and Merlin were hurtling towards drunk on a train to town. Lance and Gwen were much more sober but having more than enough fun watching Will and Merlin make fools of themselves. They were headed towards Camelot because Lance could get them free drinks, and even Merlin's fear of running into the handkerchief man, which was silly because he hadn't ever met the man, and even though Merlin was convinced he would know him when he saw him, it didn't stop them from going to Camelot because Merlin's book advance wasn't going to last them forever. And if the book didn't sell, then they were back at poor again.

Merlin desperately hated being poor.

"I hate being poor," Merlin said to Will, who was gulping at the whiskey.

"Agreed," Gwen said from across from them, where Lance had his arm around her. Will nodded and passed them the whiskey.

"But we won't always be poor," Lance said as he took the flask and swallowed a few shots.

"Cheers!" Gwen said when she took the flask from them and gulped greedily.

Merlin supposed that they probably wouldn't be because they were young and had a long stretch of destiny before them. That was what he kept telling Kilgharrah, who kept going on and on about lost destinies and misguided youths. He had taken to leaving hairballs in very inconvenient places and trying to murder Will at every opportunity, which although was very amusing for Merlin, was starting to drive Will to paranoia.

The empty flask was stuffed in Gwen's boot as they trudged up the stairs from the station and into the bright lights of inner London. The air was cooler, and more often than not, it was raining during the day, leaving the nights to plunge into more chilly temperatures and force club-goers to part with their money for the sake of coat checks. Every single time winter rolled around, Will tried to convince Merlin that if they got drunk enough, they would be warm enough not to bring coats. And every winter, Merlin believed him and got pneumonia. Tonight, Merlin was smart enough to wear his peacoat, letting the whiskey and the warm wool protect him from the coming winter weather.

Not only did all the more beautiful queers look at them as they walked into the club because they were with Lance, but they got to skip the line, even though Edwin wasn't working. Merlin vowed, there and then, never to go out without Lance ever again. Five guys offered to buy him drinks, none of them fugly, before they even got to the bar. Merlin decided that he was going to have to put aside some money to buy Lance a brilliant Christmas present because the odds were in favor of him taking home someone he wouldn't be ashamed of in the morning. It was a novel idea, but one that Merlin had yet to experience because even though he wasn't exactly ugly, he was unfortunate-looking and had a nasty habit of taking home ugly blokes. Will had said that there would be really fit, rather handsome blokes practically begging to take Merlin home, and Merlin would still be obvious to anyone but ugly blokes.

The first three rounds of shots did not go down smoothly, but Merlin didn't care because there was glitter everywhere and smiling, attractive men waiting to pull him in to the dance floor. It was a great night full of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and enough David Bowie for Merlin to have flashbacks to Labyrinth and ungodly amounts of eyeliner. They took another round and wandered to the dance floor. Merlin let the nearest half-clothed, attractive man pull him in, and he closed his eyes and listened to the steady beat of the gay nightlife.

"Are you having a good time?" Gwen shouted in his ear, after what felt like minutes later.

Merlin smiled at her, as she was trying to dance with Lance, who was a terrible dancer but made up for it by looking beautiful underneath the myriad of lights on the dance floor. Merlin found himself dancing next to someone who looked like he might play a lot of rugby and who was wearing high heels. He was attractive though.

"Do you want us to wait for you?"

Merlin frowned and looked around, only to notice the crowd thinning out and the lights by the bar going up.

"What time is it?" Merlin asked.

"Almost five."

Merlin shook his head. "I'm going to go to the loo, I'll meet you outside."

"All right," Gwen said with a smile as she tugged Lance away from the dance floor and over to the bar. Merlin scanned the crowd for Will but didn't find him. Merlin shrugged off the rugby player and waded through the crowd, many of whom were exchanging numbers or getting off in what was left of the dark corners of the club. Merlin made his way to the bathroom, pushing past several couples who couldn't wait until they got home to conclude their business.

It was only when he was already mid-pee that he realized where he was. The familiar wall art made him smile, but the place held a sort of magical energy that Merlin couldn't seem to ignore when he was this drunk. He ran his hand along the wall and tucked himself in with his other. It seemed so long ago that he was here, high out of his mind and thinking that sticking his dick in a hole was going to be a good time. And it was a good time. His magic had connected with the handkerchief man in a way that he had never felt before, and it was nice and strange and new, because sometimes it felt like his magic wasn't really a part of him or was only a part of him when Merlin wanted it to be. But that wasn't true; his magic was always there, and it always had been there, throbbing beneath the surface and waiting to be discovered. And maybe, maybe that was his destiny.

Merlin turned around, ready to open the stall door and go home when the door banged open to reveal Arthur Pendragon, eyes wild and hands up as if Merlin was a startled animal that Arthur was trying to calm.

"I don't love you."

Merlin gaped.

"I don't love you, but I didn't get on my knees every night and wait for you because it was good for my health," Arthur said as he walked into the stall. Merlin stuttered, trying to wrap his mind around Prince Arthur in the bathroom of Camelot. "Because believe me, I saw a lot of cocks that weren't yours, and it was more than my fair share."

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

"I was on the other side of that stall because I have never felt like that with anyone before," Arthur continued, as if Merlin had never spoken. Merlin's mind was slowly catching up to the situation, and he felt the prickly heat of anger wind up his spine.

"Don't play with me, Arthur! Don't throw my own weakness back in my face," Merlin said and tried to push his way past Arthur, only to get pushed back against the side of the stall, with Arthur's hand splayed in the middle of his chest, pinning to him to the cool metal.

"And then I met you at the dinner, and you were such a prick."

"What the hell are you talking about," Merlin sputtered. "And I wasn't a prick!"

"I've been trying to tell you," Arthur said, with a tenderness to his voice that would bring Merlin to his knees if he let it. Merlin watched, eyes wide as Arthur ran a shaky hand through his hair. Merlin blinked, taking in his unbuttoned shirt and his soft khaki trousers with soiled knees. He also noted the blue piece of cloth hanging out of breast pocket, a familiar dragon embroidered on the corner.

"What--"

Arthur shook his head and moved his hands to cup Merlin's face. Merlin tried not to lean into his touch, but it was so hard when Arthur was so close, baby blues so honest and open that it made Merlin's heart physically ache.

"Merlin, I've been trying to tell you that it's been me this whole time," Arthur said, a blush high of his cheeks. "And I didn't know, not when I met you at the dinner or when you saved my life. But when--"

"When I showed you the handkerchief," Merlin said in awe.

"God, I know it sounds crazy, but I was so jealous of myself, does that make any sense? I was so jealous of what this anonymous me had with you, and for some reason, I couldn't seem to reach out to you in person, and it made me so angry," Arthur finished in a whisper, but Merlin was still dazed, trying to fit the puzzle pieces together. It didn't help that Arthur's thumb was rubbing at Merlin's cheek like he missed him, and it was making Merlin's head spin.

"But, but how?"

Arthur laughed, shaking his head. "I don't know. I have no idea, but I never, you were never," Arthur stopped and took a deep breath. "I don't love you, Merlin. But I could. I could love you if you let me."

Merlin blinked.

"That's your line?"

Arthur frowned. "What?"

"That's your romantic, 'had me at hello', climactic line to win me back?"

Merlin watched Arthur's face as it scrunched up, a hint of embarrassment there before it smoothed out. His eyes were bright and hopeful, and the line of his mouth was set. Why anyone would want to teach Arthur, beautifully expressive and open Arthur, to be stoic and blank was beyond Merlin. The royal family was definitely missing something.

"Yes," Arthur said, his finger running over the curve of Merlin's lower lip. "That's my romantic line to win you back."

Merlin closed his eyes and thought about walking away. He thought about the look on Arthur's face, shocked and hurt and angry, if he just pulled Arthur's soft, lovely hands away from his face and left Arthur behind, standing in a loo. He thought about rejecting Arthur and inflicting all the pain that Merlin had gone through in the last month back on Arthur. Arthur, who was obviously not just gay for Merlin, but plainly rainbow-and-unicorns gay. Arthur, who refused to eat the wax on brie and clicked through the channels too fast to actually comprehend what was on each station. He was someone who broke a million hearts a day with a trained smile and broke probably dozens of more in the privacy of his own home, if what Leon had said was true. He was the same man who gave him a handkerchief after blowing him in a loo and who didn't know how to translate that anonymous intimacy into the time they spent holding hands and talking about their childhoods. He was Arthur, who played with Merlin's ears when they lay in bed and always had cold feet, and who kissed Merlin as if he were Arthur's first kiss, sweet and chaste and his last kiss, passionate and desperate for moremoremore.

Merlin thought about walking away from Arthur, who was asking for a chance to love him.

"Well," Merlin said, a small grin working its way onto his face as he opened his eyes. "It's kind of a shit line."

Arthur smiled, and Merlin couldn't help but smile too: it was too infectious when Arthur's lips curved in an open smile that was so unlike the ones he gave to the papers. It was intimate in a way that brought Merlin back to the moments he spent at the glory hole, fingers sliding into a mouth that craved intimacy. And now, now it seemed so clear. His magic seemed to be doing a happy dance in his stomach, and Merlin could tell by the way the stall was lit up that his skin was glowing again. Merlin tugged on Arthur's belt loops until he came closer, pressing Merlin up against the stall wall. Arthur didn't seem to find the glowing odd or alarming, and that fact made Merlin glow brighter.

"Doesn't make it less true," Arthur murmured. Merlin nodded, grin widening on his face until he knew it was goofy and making his ears protrude from his head. Arthur stared at his mouth before moving back up to Merlin's eyes. Merlin wanted to kiss him, wanted to just melt the rest of the world away and be with Arthur, but it was obvious that Arthur wasn't done.

"Merlin," Arthur started, and then shook his head. "About what Leon said..."

Merlin shook his head and wrapped an arm around Arthur, holding him steadfast to his body. "Was it true?"

"About you being just a twink?"

"No, about you paying me hush money. About not being able to give me what I want."

Arthur sighed. "Merlin, whoever thinks that you could be silenced with money obviously has never met you," Arthur said, his hand pressing into Merlin's jaw until Merlin opened his mouth. "Or met Will, because I doubt he'd keep his mouth shut if I offered you a bribe to keep quiet."

Merlin nodded, a rueful smile on his face. Will would come up in a conversation like this. Of course he would.

"And it's going to be hard for a while because keeping secrets like you isn't something I want to do," Arthur said carefully. "But when we go public, it's going to be ugly for a while. It's going to be hard for you and your family and us. But I'm not afraid of that anymore."

"Were there others?" It didn't matter. Not really. But Arthur was talking and Merlin was curious.

"Other glory hole incidents, or other lovers?"

Merlin didn't miss the flush that was working down Arthur's neck and causing the tips of his ears to flame. Merlin hadn't noticed that before.

"Both," Merlin said.

"Yes," Arthur said quietly. "There were others, but none after you. And before, I was young and stupid and very, very scared."

God, Merlin couldn't imagine. And maybe that was where his fault was rooted, in the idea that he could image what Arthur must have felt like growing up as the Prince of Albion, under his father's shadow, thinking it was his duty to find a nice girl and settle down. Arthur's life was so different from his, and the troubles that Arthur had as a growing gay man were Merlin's troubles, but twisted and magnified for everyone to see. Merlin couldn't imagine, and he was in no place to judge. Absolutely none.

"Okay."

"What?"

"I said," Merlin started again, letting his free hand wind up Arthur's chest, playing with the handkerchief before sliding it the rest of the way up and wrapping it around the nape of Arthur's neck. "I said, okay."

When they kissed, it wasn't earth-shattering; the sky didn't fall, and the heavens didn't open up. Hell, Merlin's magic even behaved. It wasn't their first kiss or even the best kiss that they had shared, but it was the kiss that Merlin would remember when he told the whole epic story to their friends and family, about how Arthur had burst into the loo of Camelot, professed his potential love, and took a chance on Merlin, a gay erotica writer with magic.

It was the story that Merlin told when the interviewers asked him the first moment he knew he loved Arthur, much to Arthur's chagrin, because the press had a field day with 'Camelot' and 'Arthur' and 'Merlin'. Everyone called it destiny, from Kilgharrah to Hunith to a grumbling but pleased Gaius. And even though the story was ugly because it was in a dirty loo and had led to a crystal queen overhearing it and selling it to the local tabloids for fifty thousand pounds and completely blowing up the press, even though it wasn't the picture perfect story that Gaius and Uther would have wanted to pitch to the press, as to avoid shaming the royal family for all eternity and completely embarrassing Arthur--it didn't stop Merlin from telling the story.

As he mother always said: the truth would do it, almost every time.

<3<3<3

Merlin keened.

"You've got to be quiet," Arthur whispered, pulling away from Merlin's hole with spit-slick lips. Merlin groaned, loud and unashamed at the sight of Arthur's swollen lips, spit smeared in such a pornographic manner that Merlin wanted nothing more than to take a picture to wank to when Arthur was off doing princely things. "The security detail is going to think someone is dying in here, and I assure you that them busting in here while we are having sex is not as exciting as it sounds."

"I don't give a fuck," Merlin cursed, hand curling in Arthur's hair and pushing him back down between his legs until Arthur huffed, his breath blowing against Merlin's swollen but greedy hole. "You should have thought about that before you put your tongue up my ass."

Arthur made his own desperate sound against Merlin's thigh. "God, Merlin. You can't say that."

"Arthur, if you don't put your tongue back up my hole right now, I will make you."

Arthur gaped at him, and Merlin pulled tight on Arthur's hair until he whined and bent back down to blow a hot gust of air over Merlin's puckered hole. Merlin groaned, thrusting his arse in the general direction of Arthur's mouth, and waited for more of that wet heat. His cock was so hard he felt like he was going to burst, because it always was when Arthur was naked, or half-naked, or fully clothed and eating dinner with the queens and kings. Arthur made him hard all the damn time because he was a bloody tease.

"Please, Arthur."

That did the trick. Arthur moaned, his carefully manicured nails biting into the soft skin of Merlin's inner thighs as Arthur literally dived in to devour Merlin's hole, mouth wet, hot, and hungry. Merlin couldn't help the tiny scream that erupted from him, or the way his legs clamped down on Arthur's head as he thrust back onto Arthur's tongue. He was probably strangling him, but Merlin was beyond caring as Arthur twisted his tongue until he could fuck Merlin with it, sliding a long index finger to press hard against the spot inside him that made Merlin wild with pleasure.

"Oh fuck, Arthur," Merlin moaned, his thighs twisting around Arthur's head and his hips fucking back onto Arthur's tongue and finger, desperate for more. Merlin always felt like that, desperate for more of Arthur: more of his fingers, more of his cock, more of his love, more of everything Arthur had to give. "More, Arthur. Please, God--fuck!"

Arthur stuffed another finger up along his second one and pulled his tongue out, his breath coming in pants as he looked up at Merlin. His eyes were blown almost black with arousal, and Merlin could hardly breathe from wanting him so badly.

"You are such a noisy lay," Arthur said as he pumped two thick fingers up into Merlin. Merlin tried to glare, but it only came out as a few huffed laughs and a needy twist of his spine.

"Fuck me already, would you?"

But Arthur was already sliding on a condom and rearranging Merlin's legs however he wanted them, because he was bossy and a control freak and fuckfuckfuckfuck--

"Arthur," Merlin moaned, just as Arthur bottomed out, his head bent low enough to press a chaste kiss to Merlin's chest. But Merlin wasn't feeling particularly chaste; he was feeling like being fucked wide open with Arthur's cock until they both came their brains out.

"Fuck me," he said as he squeezed his hole around Arthur's thick cock, causing Arthur to thrash his head back in a rare moment of complete unraveling. "Please, fuck me."

The first twist of Arthur's hips was slow and so not enough that Merlin keened, his back arching and his knees scrambling up and down Arthur's body until he could dig in his heels and make Arthur move.

"Such a bossy bottom," Arthur gritted out, his hips thrusting as slowly as possible with Merlin's legs urging him forwards. "Just shut up and let me--"

Arthur shifted slightly and slid home, dragging the heat of his cock over Merlin's prostate and making Merlin scream.

"More, fuck, Arthur, more, please, faster," Merlin babbled, and Arthur cursed.

"Shut up," Arthur spat, his hips slamming against Merlin and sending Merlin spiraling, his orgasm building heavy in the base of his spine and corkscrewing up his lungs. Merlin scraped his fingernails down Arthur's back, causing Arthur to curse and his hips to stutter, only to return with harder, more localized thrusts. "Just shut up."

Merlin opened his eyes, Arthur's flushed and sweaty face hanging over him. He could feel himself glowing, the force of his driving orgasm and his magic vibrating through him with every thrust Arthur made into him.

"Make me," Merlin snarled, before surging up and catching Arthur's lips with his teeth. Their mouths messed together as Merlin lost it, his orgasm spilling between them in long streaks from his cock as Arthur let go, thrusting wildly and without rhythm until they were both coming--Merlin, with his mouth shouting into Arthur's, and Arthur with his hands pressing bruises into Merlin's hips and his teeth clamping down on Merlin's bottom lip until it bled.

Arthur tried to roll off of him, but Merlin kept his arms hooked around Arthur's neck.

"Don't go yet," Merlin mumbled.

Arthur scoffed. "I'm crushing you and we're disgusting."

"But I like it."

Arthur grumbled again but didn't move; instead he pressed kisses along Merlin's split lip and rubbed at the fingerprint bruises blooming on Merlin's bony hipbones. Merlin practically purred into the touch.

"So," Arthur said, after they had shifted apart to dispose of the condom before sliding back together and tangling their still-sweaty limbs together. "I think we're going to be late to the dinner."

Merlin laughed, his hands threading through Arthur's hair lying across his chest. "You think?"

Arthur grumbled. "It was your fault! You know what it does to me when you wear suspenders."

"I'll be sure to let Gaius know the reason why we were late for a dinner with half of Norway was due to your inability to keep your tongue out of my ass when I wear suspenders," Merlin said with laughter evident in his voice.

"Don't mention Gaius when I'm naked."

"Too late."

Merlin continued to card his hands through Arthur's hair, listening to the way their heartbeats slowed into a steady and tandem rhythm.

"Had lunch with Gwen today," Merlin said idly.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, Gwen and Lance have set a date."

"Good," Arthur said sleepily. "It's about time."

"My mother wants us to host the rehearsal dinner."

"Whatever she wants."

"Arthur," Merlin said sternly. "You can't say that to my mother. She'll have the entire UK under her control before you can say Queen Hunith."

Arthur chuckled and shifted until their hands were pressed together. It was sappy and adorable, and Merlin just wanted to die with happiness.

"Anything else?"

Merlin grinned evilly. "Will and Morgana slept together again."

"God! Why in the name of all that is holy, seriously, why do you ruin my post-coital moment with you by mentioning Will and my sister?" Arthur sputtered and tried to bury his head in Merlin's belly.

"Because your reaction is so adorable," Merlin said back. "Don't worry though, I'm pretty sure she still hates him."

"Thank god."

Intimate silence fell over them, and Merlin took a deep breath, watching Arthur's head rise and fall on his body. It was so good to see him there, because the road behind them was rocky and unsure but he was so glad they made it. Beyond glad.

"Do you think we broke anything this time?"

Arthur lifted his head. "We?"

"Yes we, last time I checked you just had sex with me and I didn't do it alone."

Arthur scoffed, his face scrunched up in irritation. "You did screech again, like a girl."

Merlin thumped him on the top of his head before pulling him up for a kiss. Another memorable kiss out of the thousands that they had shared, and it wasn't anything less than amazing as the first one or any of the other ones after that.

"I hope it wasn't the vase from the Queen," Merlin said when they pulled apart. Arthur rolled his eyes.

"Me too."

"But you'd still love me even if I accidentally shattered something more valuable than my mother's entire house, right?"

Arthur laughed. "Yes, but only if it's while you're shagging me."

"Mmkay," Merlin said. They kissed again, languid and happy, until Gaius called and told them to hurry up.

“God, he's worse than Kilgharrah.”

Arthur scoffed, raising an eyebrow. “I still can't believe I let you keep that blasted thing.”

“I'd like to see you get rid of him,” Merlin said with his own raised brow. “He's a magical cat.”

“I don't care what he is, if he stops us from shagging again, I'll make him live with Gaius.”

Merlin laughed, remembering earlier that morning when Arthur and Merlin were making out in the kitchen, lazy and perfect, getting ready to move to the bedroom or at least a flat surface when Kilgharrah had appeared with a dead mouse. If that hadn't put them both off shagging, it was Kilgharrah's desire to talk about the recent oil spill and Morgana's plans to get a bikini wax. It was obvious that Kilgharrah's destiny was driving both Merlin and Arthur to an early grave.

"Ready?" Arthur said with hopeful eyes, as if Merlin would suddenly change his mind at any moment and say no, and walk right out of his life. Merlin smiled, lacing their fingers together and tugging until they were both sitting up.

"Always."

Finished