[√] 
"Dad, I'm gay."
"Very funny, Arthur. Why am I not going to like her this time?"
"No, it's true, Dad. I'm gay. You're not going to like him because he has balls."
"You're not my son."
 [√] 
Well, there was more to the story than that, obviously, but fuck if Arthur could remember what after six pints and at least as many shots. Or was it twelve shots? A full dozen? Arthur was getting pissed. Despite the slurring he wasn't quite there yet. Unfortunately.
Had Arthur been truly and well sloshed, he wouldn't have seen Gwaine's empathetic nod end with a grin and a wink to Merlin. More importantly, Arthur wouldn't have seen Merlin's brilliant smile and the look he exchanged with Gwaine.
Those pretty eyes were meant to be Arthur's. Merlin's. Merlin's eyes not, Gwaine's. Arthur was just drunk enough to admit that Gwaine was attractive enough to be a hair model (and eyes, nose, cheeks, pretty much everything to do with his face he could model) but Gwaine had nothing on the otherworldly beauty of Merlin.
Arthur needed another drink.
 [√] 
"Why didn't you stop me after the third shot?" Arthur demanded with a low whisper. "You're supposed to be my friend."
"You looked like you needed it."
"Like a bullet to the brain."
"Don't say that." Merlin's reflection in the bathroom mirror looked impossibly pale. Impossibly, not because of his normal complexion, but because Arthur was comparing it to his own. They looked like a pair of sheets ready to be spread on the drying line. Merlin looked like he was shivering in the cold wind already.
It was time to change the subject.
"You and Gwaine looked like you were getting along."
"Yeah. He's fun, in an irritating sort of way. And he likes you. I don't know why else he would have put up with you last night."
"That, well, paying old debts I guess."
"What do you mean?"
"I was sort of there for him when he had his father disown him."
"Had his father disown him?"
"Gwaine's father isn't the type to let a little cock-sucking come between blood, but the way Gwaine went about it didn't give him much choice."
"Then why would he-?"
"Gwaine's step-mother. Evil Incorporated. He really doesn't like her."
"Oh, okay. That makes sense."
"It doesn't, but we've been chums since. And I'd really like my two best mates to get along. So?"
"So, do you?" Do you think you can coexist with Gwaine's irritating arse?"
"I believe we can manage it."
"Good. He's moving into Town next week."
 [√] 
That's how it started, the great love affair of Gwaine and Merlin, with too much alcohol and a day of moving Gwaine into his new flat. Arthur ended up doing most of the moving as his mates were caught up in a serious argument about footie and snacks. Merlin promised Gwaine a local pub crawl just as Arthur set down the last box.
A few hours later, when Arthur's throat was sufficiently watered – without the actual water – he found himself as the third wheel in a staring contest. Either Merlin or Gwaine would answer him if Arthur said or asked anything, but neither would look at him. There's only so much a man can take, so Arthur claimed to be knackered, muttered something about an early morning and left.
That was just the first time of many.
Neither Gwaine nor Merlin said anything, but they must have thought it weird. They must have noticed how Arthur would ask them to join him for a pint after a gruelling workday, and then just up and walk away after the second pint always leaving his mates to finish whatever marathon debate they were in the middle of.
It happened so often that it became like second nature to Arthur until one day he walked out on his sister and her friend. Unlike Gwaine or Merlin, Morgana ran after him.
"Is everything alright?"
"Yes, why wouldn't it be?"
"Because you just left without saying a word. Did we upset you somehow?"
"No, I'm just tired."
"Arthur, it's noon."
"Oh, is right. Come back in and tell me what's wrong."
Arthur followed Morgana back, sat down, and let it spill. He told them how he'd come out to Uther – the whole discussion this time – and saw Morgana the Soulless Witch flinch more than once. Arthur told the girls how that night at the pub he'd looked at Merlin and seen him for what he was, the most beautiful man of his acquaintances, the only man he wanted. He told them how he'd been too late, because apparently it didn't take Gwaine three years to see what was right in front of him and grab it, him. He also talked about all the nights at all the pubs and about being the third wheel and about walking away.
That's when Morgana came up with the most absurd plan.
 [√] 
He should never ever listen to Morgana, that much was a given. It only led to trouble and temptation. Or in this case, to Arthur's personal hell.
Gwaine's team was playing against Merlin's and Arthur had offered his flat as a neutral place to watch the game. He didn't stop to think about why he'd done that considering how much he now hated football.
Merlin came early to help Arthur with the food and ended up soaking his shirt in his tea. When Arthur was looking for something small enough to lend him, Merlin asked:
"Is there something at work that's troubling you?"
"How's Morgana then? Still hexing people?"
"She's fine. Actually I think she might have found someone. She's been inordinately courteous lately. Why are you asking me these things?"
"It's not your father, is it?" Merlin sounded strangled.
"No, I haven't talked to him – what?"
Arthur handed Merlin one of his old button-downs. It was a leftover from his first attempts to do the laundry by himself. Not only had the shirt shrunk, it was pink due to having been washed with Arthur's favourite red scarf – the one his mother had given him. Arthur wasn't sure why he'd kept the shirt seeing as he'd never be able to fit in it again. It might be too small for even scrawny Merlin.
It almost was.
Merlin had to leave one too many top buttons undone to be able to breathe.
"You've been acting weird lately, that's all. I thought you'd come to me when you'd be ready to talk about it, but it's been weeks."
The doorbell rang.
"That'll be Gwaine. Excuse me." Arthur made his escape and welcomed Gwaine and his beer in.
 [√] 
Almost four hours later Arthur found himself transfixed by one of Merlin's clavicles. It was calling to him from behind the lapel of his ugly shirt. Merlin didn't notice, because he was too busy charming Gwaine's trousers off with his explanations of why his team should've won. It was mostly bollocks, but that didn't stop Gwaine from flirting back in his unsubtle way.
Arthur was tired of watching. He wanted to tell them to shag already, but couldn't quite bring himself to say it. And it wasn't because he was afraid they'd tell him they already had.
No, Arthur couldn't take anymore. He was tired and frustrated and he just wanted to walk away. But this was his flat and if he did that, even Gwaine would figure out something was going on.
But he was so very tired.
Merlin caught Arthur's eye and frowned. Arthur shook his head. He got up and walked to the out of the room ostensibly to get another lager, but in reality slinking to his bedroom to pass out.
He doubted his mates would notice, but they did and Arthur didn't crash out before he heard them talk.
"What do you think his problem is?" Gwaine asked.
"I don't know. I asked, but he wouldn't tell me."
"You sound like you have a theory."
"I do, but it's not pretty."
"Come on, tell me."
"It's almost like he's pushing us together. Like he wants to-"
Gwaine's laughter echoed in the flat.
"You're only now figuring that out?"
"This is Arthur. From the day I came out he's been setting me up with nice guys like you, hoping I'd settle down and make up with my father. He'd never admit it, but he's a softie who wants everyone around him to be happy. Why do you think he told me he wants his best mates to get along?"
"He told you that?"
"You think I'm a nice guy?"
"You say it like it's an insult. It's not."
There was a pause in the conversation and Arthur could only imagine how high the level of eye sex was getting in the other room.
"We should probably leave the royal prat to his beauty sleep and sneak out. What do you say, Merlin, are you ready to move on?"
"Yeah, I think I am."
 [√] 
There had been something in Gwaine's voice that made Arthur think he hadn't merely been talking about leaving the flat. It was almost like Gwaine had been asking Merlin to share his bed, tonight.
With that thought lodged deep in his brain, Arthur abandoned all hope of sleep.
He imagined Gwaine and Merlin walking the few blocks to Merlin's apartment building, stopping for a quick goodbye kiss that wouldn't be so quick after all, and Merlin taking Gwaine's hand as he led them into his apartment. Arthur had been in Merlin's tiny flat, so he could vividly imagine how short a way they were from his bed, but he could only guess how long it would take them to get there. Knowing Gwaine, he'd have Merlin pinned against the front door for a blowjob before they'd even kicked their shoes off.
The more Arthur thought about it, the longer he imagined it would take for Merlin and Gwaine to strip off their clothes and fall into bed.
Arthur knew Merlin hadn't had anyone for months, but Gwaine was always prepared, and besides, there are other ways. Arthur had spent weeks thinking about all the ways he wanted to touch Merlin; he knew there were other ways.
Now Arthur tried to imagine Gwaine touching Merlin like that, gentle and loving, rough and possessive, but he kept seeing himself hovering over Merlin's lithe body and going for a kiss. He kept feeling Merlin's fingers in his hair, on his back, over his arse and grabbing the backs of his thighs. He kept hearing Merlin whisper his name over and over. He kept reaching for Merlin, but he wasn't there. Arthur couldn't feel Merlin there. His mind rebelled and stopped him from imagining how Merlin would feel clenching around his cock.
 [√] 
It was almost dawn when Arthur sat down on the front steps of Merlin's building. He might've been an arse and an idiot, but he wasn't an inconsiderate idiot. He wouldn't ring the doorbell and risk interrupting a sex marathon or the well-earned rest that followed. So, he'd sit there until Gwaine walked out and then he'd talk to Merlin. He'd tell all and beg Merlin to give him a chance. He'd-
"What are you doing here?"
"It's me, or did you come visit the batty old bird next door?"
"No. You. Where did you come from?"
"From Gwaine's. Arthur, how long have you been here?"
"Not long." From Gwaine's. Merlin had spent the night. Arthur was too late. The trip from the front door to Gwaine's bed must have taken longer, but if that was true, how could Merlin be at home already?
"Did you shag Gwaine?"
"That's not really your business, now is it?"
"Merlin, please, just tell me. Tell me if you had sex with him. Tell me, if-"
"If what, Arthur?" The light in Merlin's eyes rivalled with the rising sun and his ears glowed red in the morning chill. "If your plan worked? If you'd successfully pawned me off on someone else? Well no, Arthur, it didn't work. I don't love Gwaine. I love you. And I know you don't feel the same way, but that's my problem, not yours. You don't need to save me from myself by setting me up with your old mates just to feel safe around me. I'm not going to jump and ravish you against your will."
Merlin's breath came out in huffs. He really didn't understand what Arthur had to grin about.
"It wouldn't be against my will, if you did."
"I thought you wanted Gwaine and were just too shy to ask, so I backed off. I might love you, but I won't force you into anything when you clearly fancy someone else."
"What did you just say?"
"I love you, Merlin."
"No, about me fancying another. What gave you that crazy idea?"
"You can't take your eyes off Gwaine. Whenever we're at the pub you two start cracking onto each other like-"
"That's only because I can't look at your adorable drunken face without wanting to snog the life out of you. And thank you. Yes, I know saying that earns me a quick one way trip to the nuthouse."
"Stop blathering and snog me."
"I thought I was a royal prat."
"You heard that?"
"Then why didn't you come out and stop me from leaving?"
"Because I'm a prat. But I really want to kiss you now."
"Are you sure we shouldn't go inside first?" Arthur interrupted Merlin by grabbing the lapels of his coat. "We are going to give my neighbours a show."
"It's about time, don't you think?"
"Yeah, it is."
Merlin held Arthur by the belt loops as Arthur cupped his face and plastered his plush pink lips with his own. Just rubbing the sensitive skin was more than Arthur could handle in public and definitely more than he'd been able to imagine. He wondered what it would be like to just hold Merlin through the night and never have to fear waking up alone.
Nuzzling him slightly and tracing the skin below Merlin's left ear, Arthur whispered:
"I want to do unspeakable things to you. I want to kiss you, and tease you, and touch every part of you until you can't bear it anymore. And then I want to take you in my mouth, lick and suck until you're coming, and then I want to do it again and again, over and over, until the mere thought of me inside of you will make you spasm and spurt. And I want you in me, fast and rough, slow and gentle."
"Do we have time for all that? I don't want to rush."
"We'll make time."
Merlin took Arthur's hand and pulled him up the stairs with him all the way to his fifth floor flat. Arthur didn't pin Merlin against the front door and Merlin didn't stumble out of his clothes on their way to his tiny bedroom. Instead they stood at the end of Merlin's bed and slowly exposed every square centimetre of skin. They kissed and they touched and they groped, but both were too tired from having stayed up all night to actually shag just then. They fell asleep embracing each other and ignoring Merlin's ringing phone.
"It's Gwaine, I went by Arthur's this morning but he wasn't home. I hope you're having wild animalistic sex with him right now, because while watching you two dance around each other has been fun, it's getting old. Especially since neither of you are going to bang me. Christ, I need a shag. Anyway, call me."