"I have a better idea," said Dusty's voice. From Leon's mouth.
Merlin blinked at him. It took a bit of time as he was pretty well drunk.
"Did you know you sound a lot like that guy on the radio?" Merlin slurred. "That's a really, really good impression. You could be an impersonator on weekends."
Leon coughed. Twice. Poor guy. "Er, well. I should sound like him, considering that I am him after all."
Merlin stared at him woozily from Morgana's hold on his face. He looked at his beer suspiciously, and then at Leon's beer even more suspiciously. It was very odd for Leon to drink when he was so sick all the time. "But— but what about your cold?"
"I... don't have one?"
There was something akin to the espresso machine ding! ding! dinging at the back of his mind, waving neon lights and jumping up and down. Merlin tried to make sense of it, but there were some roadblocks hindering his comprehension, namely the utter inability to reconcile real life with his fantasy radio feel good times. Merlin stared at Leon's rapidly disappearing beer some more.
"But— but you can't be, because Penn and Dusty are like together forever—" At his shoulder, a coughing Lancelot thumped at his chest, booze apparently going down the wrong tube. "I mean, even if you are Dusty and this is not a figment of my inebriated imagination— if you're Dusty then who...?"
Leon smacked his empty glass down onto the tabletop and cleared his throat. He looked at Merlin very sternly for about half a second, before his face melted into a sort of warm, kindly, avuncular expression, and then proceeded to babble. "Well, Merlin, you see... You have to know that there were good reasons why you... Um... Well, what I mean is.... I guess it must have all started—" Merlin tried to follow all of the aborted introductory sentences to their imagined conclusion, but he kept getting distracted by how huge Morgana's mouth got when she kept fake yawning.
"Yeah, so Leon is Dusty and Arthur is Penn," Morgana cut in without aplomb, rubbing at a smear on her ring. Leon looked at her, horrified, followed closely by Lancelot, and then by Merlin, who wasn't really horrified as much as immensely confused, but felt like he was missing out anyway if he did not follow suit. Looking up to see everyone gaping at her, she rolled her eyes and started to clap unenthusiastically. "Surprise!" Her applause petered out and she saluted him with her olive skewer. "Who would have ever guessed?"
Leon and Lancelot both winced.
Merlin looked around slowly. Then he looked at his beer. Then he drained it. Then he decided he must be dreaming and thus, it was only logical to wake himself by banging his head on the sticky table. Lancelot shouted in alarm and hovered over him as he clutched his head in agony.
While the others looked at him in concern, sadly it didn't look like they were about to retract their statements and say, "Not! Just kidding! Next round on me!"
"Oh my god," Merlin groaned. "This is actually happening to me." Then he sucked in a deep breath and glared at them (as much as he was able to. Well, they might give him points for trying). "What is going on?"
Leon and Lancelot shared an uneasy look. Morgana took an olive off of her skewer and ate it, sucking the liquid excess on her thumb and saying casually, "Well Merlin, I wanted to tell you form the beginning but everyone else wanted to be stupidly secretive for some reason." She glared at Leon meaningfully before she went on, smiling at Merlin. "See, you're Bar Guy."
"Pfft," Merlin said. "Tell me something I don't know," and still hardly believe, he didn't say.
"So," Morgana said, clearly ignoring him. "It should follow, in this very bar, I witnessed you throwing a drink in Arthur's face." She followed up with some very realistic sounding details that Merlin tried to debunk in his head anyway, before concluding with, "and I laughed at him very, very hard, after which he wrote a sad poem about it on his blog or something."
Leon sighed long-sufferingly and looked at Merlin with something akin to sheepishness. "Yeah, something like that."
Which left only one course of action.
More booze. Holding his sore head, he got up (to the protest of the others), picked up the now empty jug and almost ran to the bar.
Merlin flagged Heath down frantically with his remaining hand, not only needing a huge alcoholic drink desperately, but also because Heath wouldn't elaborate such lies to get a rise out of him, surely. The bartender ambled towards him, amused.
"All right there Merlin?" he asked, filling up another pot for him.
Merlin leaned over the bar, clutching air. "Um, Heath. Did I— Have I ever thrown a drink at someone? Someone blond?"
Heath laughed, pounding the bar a little with the flat of one palm. "Oh god yeah! Bloody hilarious mate, no idea you had that in you! Neither did the other bloke, you know, the one you were sitting with last week? Glad to see you lot made up, otherwise I'd've told you off for your disgraceful waste of almost average wine." Heath shook his head, put the filled jug on the counter and went off to serve his other waiting customers.
Merlin froze. Beer tipped onto the floor.
It was true!
He had come into the bar with Will and the girls when Morgana and Arthur had been having a piss up after a horrible dinner with Arthur's father. Will had chatted up a girl and they'd bumped into Morgana's wine glass and gotten the wine in it all over Arthur's shirt, and he'd been angry, and started fighting with Will and evidently Merlin had come out of the loo and poured a beer all over Arthur's face.
And then Arthur had come to his shop and bought all those shirts and known exactly who he was and then went to work and ranted about it (quite hilariously). On the radio. And this is why he'd known where Merlin had worked, and had been mean to him, and bought him a lovely scarf and tried to kiss him in the middle of the street.
He liked him. And he was sort of being an arse about it. And even though Arthur was Penn and lied about it and even pretended not to even know what he was on about at first and liked Merlin, maybe he didn't know that Merlin had worked out that he was Bar Guy or that he had listened to the show at all, until Merlin had told him so at the HMV and—
And everyone in the world was a huge dick! Because Leon and Morgana and Lancelot knew that Arthur was Penn and Merlin was Bar Guy and didn't even say anything even when they all picked Merlin up in the car and he'd told them a-about Arthur and him in the middle of the road and they'd flipped through Freya and Gwen's carefully constructed :D scrapbook right in front of him!
He slammed the half empty jug down onto the table.
"You guys are all jerks." Merlin sort of felt like he was going to cry (not because he was an angry crier or anything, he was just a maudlin drunk, really). How much did Arthur know Merlin knew? Was Ronald McDonald in on the whole thing? How is giving someone a scarf and recommending Bruce Willis movies the ultimate plan of revenge? He really wasn't sober enough for all these complicated who knew what where when clarifications.
Leon, Morgana and Lancelot stared at him guiltily (well, Leon and Lancelot. Morgana looked sort of amused. Merlin was starting to suspect Morgana wasn't actually very nice. He felt a little sorry for Leon. Dusty. Holy crap).
"Look, Merlin, I am really very, very sorry about this. And really, I did try to stop him, really, but the higher ups love Arthur and his rating raising ways, so I was pretty much outvoted from the get go and... Really, I am sorry," Leon finished lamely.
He flicked at dirt underneath his nails, feeling himself pouting even more. "Why didn't any of you tell me? Do you think this is funny or something?" Does Arthur think this is funny or something? more like, but his insides tightened at the thought.
Morgana opened her mouth to reply, but Lancelot replied quickly while Leon distracted her with a shove to her ribs. Merlin huffed and didn't look at him. He was never going to give him any help with Gwen, ever. "Please don't be angry with us, Merlin. It wasn't our place to tell you about Arthur. Honestly, I was hoping that he'd have come clean to you about this after you were properly introduced."
And he remembered them in the street, and Arthur calling after him, looking brilliant and intense and hair gleaming, and maybe Arthur was trying to tell him then, but Merlin had cut him off, been scared and didn't want to hear it because he really, really liked Arthur and was stuffing up really badly, just knew he was and hadn't wanted to. He had wanted to go back and maybe try to kiss him lots, or go back and put his hand back into Arthur's pocket and huddle close and let Arthur fidget with his scarf and god, he had thrown a drink in Arthur's face!
Merlin wailed, trying not to feel mortified or so very, very relieved that he wouldn't have to choose between Arthur and a disembodied voice he loved very, very much, that had spoken and teased and chuckled in his ear and kept him company on lonely nights.
"Oh my god Lance, how am I even—" but he couldn't even finish the question, much too frightened of actually articulating the whole thing, lest it become actually real and not something he could shove to the side and deal with later. So he decided to shove it to the side and ask instead, "How do you even know Arthur anyway?"
Lancelot cleared his throat, eyes shifty. "Well, I told you I had worked at Camelot. I was actually on the Drivethru team before some things happened—"
"—and Arthur ended up helping me get a job at Mercia."
Merlin glared at him, chin on the table and sticky from...well, best not to know really. "I see your loyalty to Arthur overshadows your loyalty to me, your bestest roommate in the whole world."
Lancelot nodded contritely, patting him on the back. "Them's the breaks."
"I'll break you," Merlin muttered. Lancelot decided to ignore him, which was probably better in the long run as he wouldn't have been able to fulfil the threat unless, again, remote controlled robots were involved.
"If it helps, I never planned to hide anything. But by the time I got on board, Morgana was having way too much fun at Arthur's expense and it had sort of spiralled out of control."
Morgana didn't care to defend herself, smiling indulgently. Merlin sniffed.
"What is there to be sad about Merlin, honestly?" Morgana sighed.
"You all lied to me?"
"Yes, well, you'll get over it." Morgana pulled him upright and poured him a drink. "And really, we wouldn't have been forced to lie to you if Arthur hadn't been such a coward in the first place! He's had plenty of opportunities to come clean, but no, instead all of us innocent bystanders," she swept her arm languorously around to indicate those seated, "were threatened to keep quiet and pretend ignorance, even in the face of your terrible self flagellation! I told him to confront you Merlin, I really did. But would he listen to me?" Morgana heaved out a breath, put upon. "And I was providing so much moral support Merlin, you don't know how much I suffered in my silence. Oh Merlin, I cavorted behind public loos and hid behind newspapers for you!"
The gleeful nature of her supposed woe suggested to Merlin that she might not be entirely truthful, though Leon nodded at her in agreement.
"He's usually a man of action," Leon said. "But around you he's more like a man of weird stalkerish habits. And truly horrible acting."
"And foot in mouth syndrome," Lancelot pitched in.
"And foot in mouth syndrome," Leon agreed. "And I think we'd all turn old and gray—" he glanced at Morgana. "Or old and gray dyed black before Arthur came clean about his not very secret identity."
Morgana leaned in to tell him, solemnly, "Arthur must never, ever know you fancied him and his hideous radio counterpart. His ego would swell from here to Winnipeg.” She stage whispered, “that's in Canada," when Merlin continued to look confused.
"If we could all get back on track for a minute," Leon announced dryly. "Merlin, how would you like to confront Arthur Pendragon about his strange, strange ways to his face?"
Merlin perked up in his seat.
"What do you have in mind?"