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Champagne from a paper cup (is never quite the same)

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4 August 2010

"You're doing what?"

At Elena's shriek, half the pub turned to look at them. Merlin rubbed at the ear closest to her, wincing.

"Fuck's sake, woman, keep it down. I don't think they heard you at the North Pole."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, pulling him away from where they'd stopped just inside the door after his announcement. "I'm just a little surprised that my stupid sodding best friend didn't tell me that he was going to work for the best footie club on the planet."

"I love you, too," Merlin said, flagging down a waitress as Elena muscled him into a booth. They ordered two pints before he turned his attention back to her. "I didn't want to say anything until I was sure." And then belatedly, "I wouldn't say the best on the planet. In Albion, maybe."

"Still. It's Camelot United. Do you even know what that means?"

Camelot United was the top club in Albion's Premiere League, arguably the most elite football organization in the world. Merlin smiled up at the waitress as she placed his pint in front of him before turning his attention back to Elena.

"It's just a job. You know I'm not all that into footie, anyway."

"Liar. I know you used to subscribe to MATCH! because you liked looking at all the footballers' bums."

Merlin's head snapped up. "Who told you that?"

"Will." Merlin's other best childhood friend and currently a defender for their hometown side, Ealdor City.

"Will also thinks you're desperate to shag him," Merlin said, smiling smugly when she choked a bit. "I really wouldn't pay him much mind if I were you."

"So you don't like looking at their bums?" she asked, disappointed, like he was the worst gay best friend a girl could have.

"Always been a thigh man, myself," he said. Elena's face brightened, and she clinked her glass against his.

"Cheers to that!"

They were quiet for a few minutes before Elena pressed on. "Details? I assume Gaius was involved."

Gaius was Merlin's uncle and Camelot United’s club physician. He’d been Merlin’s mentor since he was a child and now, largely due to his influence, Merlin was in the final year of his medical degree.

“Yeah, they were looking for a part-time assistant for him, so he called me to see if I was interested. I said no, at first. I didn’t think I’d have the time between clinical training and teaching.”

“Oh,” Elena said, deflating a bit. “That does sound like a lot.”

“It would’ve been, but Gaius arranged it with the uni that my work with the club will qualify as my clinical training. I have a special advisor and still have to go to uni for teaching, but that's it."

"Wow. It helps to have friends in high places."

Merlin smiled. "It also helps that the university will be associated with the club. They're probably thanking their lucky stars that I decided to enrol there."

"Huh," Elena said, sitting back. "What about your--you know," she said, holding her hand out in front of her and wiggling her fingers, "magic."

For as long as he could remember, Merlin had had the ability to heal injuries. His mum told him that she’d first noticed it once when he’d fallen out of his pram as a toddler, scraping up his knees. He’d cried as she fussed about, looking for something to clean the wounds.

But then he’d suddenly stopped, and when she turned around he had his hands on his knees and was smiling up at her. When she moved his hands so she could tend to the scrapes, they’d vanished.

Other incidents had followed. By the time Merlin was set to start school, he knew that he was special. He didn't know where the gift came from or exactly how it worked. It was just this energy living inside him that he could control and use to heal himself and other people. Gaius had been the one to encourage him to go into medicine, so that he could better learn to control and use it properly.

"I'll go about it the same way I always do, I suppose," he said, taking a drink of his beer.

For obvious reasons, he used it sparingly and only to speed up the natural healing process. Anything too drastic would raise suspicions, and Merlin was not someone who liked attention. He also didn’t want to spend the remainder of his days locked in a sterile room being dissected by scientists.

"I can't believe you're going to be working for Camelot United," Elena said dreamily after a moment, staring off into space. "You're going to be in the clubhouse with them. Touching them."

"I imagine so, yes," he said, nonchalant. "Do you want me to give Gwaine your phone number?"

Elena paled. "Don't you dare."

“Oh, come on,” Merlin said, “you’ve been going on about him for two years already. This is the perfect opportunity!”

There'd been many a late evening where Merlin had had to listen to her extolling his virtues. Not that he could really blame her--as far as he could tell from all the pictures he’d seen, the man was bloody gorgeous.

“Merlin, I will kill you.”

"All right,” he said, putting his hands up in mock surrender. “I was just saying. But if you change your mind--"

"No." She cut him off swiftly and changed the subject. "But what about you?"

"What about me?

"Who've you got your eye on? You never did tell me what you thought of that new defender I showed you-- what was his name?--Leon something-or-other...."

"Are you insane? I can't go about seducing people. I'll be working. Besides, they're professional athletes. They're probably all homophobic or severely repressed."

"Will says--"

"What did I just say about listening to Will?"

"--that all the clubs have at least a few gay players, and that the showers are just rife with homosexual activity. Besides," she said, "we know there's at least one player who's not entirely straight."

She was referring to Arthur Pendragon, the club's--and the League's--top striker. Dubbed "The Pride of Albion" at birth, Arthur was the only son of Uther Pendragon, the club’s owner. Having been born locally, he was wildly popular, making it difficult to go anywhere without seeing his face plastered all over everything.

Not that that was a hardship: aside from being talented, he was ridiculously handsome. Merlin had had a secret, terrible crush on him a few years back, spending an entire fortnight trolling the internet for pictures and any gossip he could find. And there was plenty of it.

As talented as he was on the pitch, he was twice as promiscuous off it. Women, men, both at the same time; nothing was off limits for Arthur Pendragon. He had someone different on his arm every week, and just as often as not, that someone was male. Merlin had eventually lost interest, though, too caught up in uni to think about anything else.

“He’s probably trying to be controversial," Merlin said.

"You don't know that. I mean, he’s the first openly bisexual athlete. Attitude called him a pioneer," she said, matter-of-factly.

"Why are you reading gay magazines? I’m gay, and I don't read Attitude."

"I like the pictures," she said with a shrug. "Don't tell me you haven't thought about it. I know you used to fancy him."

"I haven't thought about it," Merlin insisted. "Besides, have you seen the blokes that he's been with? I won't hold my breath."

"You don't give yourself enough credit. I'm sure he'd be glad to bend you over and give you a good rogering."

Merlin paused. "Did you really just say rogering?"

“Would you prefer if I said he'd shag you rotten? Fuck your brains out?"

“Oh God, stop it,” Merlin said, putting his hands over his ears. "I'll not be doing any of those things with Arthur Pendragon, thank you very much."

"We'll see. You'll be gagging for it within a week, I'd bet."

"Ri-ight. So anyway," he went on, steering the conversation away from any thoughts of shagging Arthur Pendragon, "I just have to meet Uther to get the final okay."

"You're meeting Uther? When?"

"Tomorrow morning."

Elena spluttered, waving her hands at him frantically. "What are you doing out drinking? You can't be hung over when you meet Sir Uther Pendragon."

Merlin looked down at his pint, of which he'd drunk roughly a third. "I don't think--"

He stopped abruptly when Elena seized his glass, downing the whole thing in four big gulps. He opened and closed his mouth, unsure what to say. He was--that was--quite impressive, actually.

"Right, then, let's go," she said, wiping her mouth with a napkin. "Time to get you off to bed."

"But it's early," Merlin protested. Elena ignored him, pulling out her mobile to call for a taxi.

"Yes, and by the time we get you home, you'll be able to get a good night's sleep. Come on, then," she said, pulling at his arm until he was forced to stand up or fall out of the booth onto his face. He thought about mentioning that he would probably get home faster on the train, but a taxi did sound nice.

"You're a complete nutter," he said instead as she led him out of the pub and into the warm night air.

"You love me," she replied as she scanned the street for their car.

They waited in companionable silence until it arrived and then piled into the back. Merlin’s flat was closer to the pub, so the taxi stopped there first.

"Now give us a kiss," Elena said, offering up her cheek. Merlin rolled his eyes, but he obliged, giving her a quick peck. She was crazy, but he did indeed love her.

"You'll call when you get home?" he asked as he slid out of the car.

"I'll text you!" she called out the window, waving as they pulled away from the curb. "Let me know what happens tomorrow! Knock him dead!"


5 August 2010

"Merlin, it's Gaius. Just calling to remind you that our appointment with Uther is at eleven. Wear something nice...and for heaven's sake--DON'T BE LATE!"


Merlin was running late. He rushed down the stairs from his flat, taking them two at a time, a half-eaten piece of toast clamped between his teeth. By some miracle of nature, he made it to the ground floor without breaking his neck. He burst out onto the street and straight into a woman walking a tiny dog.

"Sorry, so sorry," he huffed, helping set her to rights while trying to avoid getting bitten by the vicious little beast. Once she was on her way, her evil, evil dog having appropriated the toast he'd dropped, he checked his watch. Twenty minutes to make a trip that took thirty--he'd never make it if he had to wait for a train.

By sheer dumb luck, he spotted a taxi dropping someone off down the road. He jumped out in front of it as it pulled away from the curb, nearly getting hit in the process. He ignored the blaring horn as he rushed around and threw himself into the back seat.

"To the stadium, please, as fast as you can," he said before the driver could turn around and yell at him. He sank back against the seat and took a few deep breaths, trying to calm his racing heart. He was starting to sweat, and rubbed his damp palms against his thighs.

It wasn't that he was nervous, exactly--well, maybe a little--but Merlin hated interviews. Regardless of his confidence in his abilities, he always felt awkward and unsure no matter how much he prepared.

The taxi pulled up by the public entrance to the stadium. Another quick glance at his watch told him he had two minutes to spare. It turned out that the entrance for the executive offices were on the other side of the stadium, so by the time Merlin made it into the lift to take him up to Uther's office, he was five minutes late.

He used the ride to straighten himself up, trying to flatten out his hair and bracing himself for Gaius's disapproving look. He wasn't disappointed: Gaius's eyebrow shot up the moment Merlin was ushered into the waiting room.

"I'm sorry," Merlin said, trying to strike pre-emptively. "I was attacked by a dog."

Not precisely true, but it was as good an excuse as any. He suspected it wouldn't make a difference had he been caught in a freak elephant stampede on the high street.

"Hmm," Gaius answered, looking him up and down. "Couldn't have been that bad; you appear to have escaped relatively unscathed."

"You know me," Merlin said with a grin, "fast as lightning."

Gaius rolled his eyes and stood up. "Luckily for you, Uther hasn't called us in yet."

He straightened Merlin's collar and smoothed down the fabric of his jumper over his shoulders. Merlin smiled at his uncle's fussing. They weren’t actually related by blood, but Merlin loved him fiercely. He knew Gaius had pushed hard to give him this chance, so he did not want to disappoint him.

"Thank you," he said, "for arranging this. It'll certainly be more fun than running around a hospital all year."

Apparently satisfied that Merlin was presentable, Gaius led him to a sleek leather sofa set against the wall.

"It'll be hard work as well," Gaius said. "But good experience for you, especially if you're still thinking about specializing in orthopaedics."

"I am," Merlin confirmed. His choice of specialty had probably been the main reason he'd been considered for the job. Bone and muscle injuries responded particularly well to his magic, and he’d see plenty of both working for a professional football club.

Gaius nodded, patting him on the knee. Merlin took a moment to compose himself, looking around the waiting room. The secretary was sat across from them behind her huge desk. She was a stern-looking woman, her hair done up in a severe bun.

On the wall directly above her was a club photograph. All the players and staff were lined up in rows, smiling out at the camera. The other walls were covered in action photos of individual players--Merlin recognized Gwaine and Arthur, of course, but he didn't know many of the others.

"Mr. Pendragon will see you now," the secretary announced, hanging up her phone and standing. "Follow me, please."

Merlin's palms went damp again as they followed her through two sets of heavy wood doors. As owner of Camelot United (and about half the city of Camelot itself), Uther Pendragon was one of the most powerful men in the country. In the entire world, probably.

His office was huge, larger than Merlin's entire flat. It was sparsely furnished, just a sofa and coffee table at one end and Uther's desk at the other, with two chairs for visitors in front of it. Uther sat behind his desk, scribbling away at a pad of paper.

"Your eleven o'clock, Mr. Pendragon."

"Thank you, Katrina. That'll be all." He waved at her dismissively, and she dutifully disappeared. Looking up at them briefly, he indicated the chairs in front of his desk. “Sit.”

Merlin wasn't listening, his eyes glued to the floor-to-ceiling window behind Uther that looked out over the pitch. He might not follow the game religiously like most people he knew, but the view still took his breath away.

“Wow,” he said under his breath as Gaius finally ushered him to his chair. Uther looked up from his paper. Apparently awestruck was an appropriate reaction, as he gave Merlin an approving nod.

“Impressive, isn't it?”

“It's incredible,” Merlin said, picturing what it must look like on a match day. “Do you watch the matches from here?”

“Occasionally. I usually watch from one of the suites,” he replied, setting down his pen. “Do you follow Camelot United?”

“I'm more of an Ealdor City fan,” Merlin replied, still too distracted by the view to pay attention to what he was saying. Uther made a face like he'd just tasted something exceptionally disgusting. “That's where I'm from,” Merlin said, trying not to sound defensive. “But since I've been at uni I don't really have the time to follow anyone.”

“Gaius tells me you're at Albion University.” Uther reached for a folder sitting at the edge of his desk. He flipped it open, scanning the top page of its contents briefly.

"Yes, sir." Merlin sat up a bit straighter, proud. Albion was the top course in the country.

“Merlin is very gifted,” Gaius cut in. “His clinical training is progressing quite nicely, and his director tells me he's the best in his year. Unofficially, of course.”

“Of course,” Uther said, still looking through the folder. Merlin wondered if he'd somehow got a hold of his records. “But you do realize that you won't be working with ordinary patients here, as you have in hospital.” He got up from his chair and walked to the window. “These are some of the world's best athletes. With millions of pounds at risk, I cannot afford any mistakes born from inexperience.”

“Yes, sir," Merlin said again, trying to sound agreeable. From the look Gaius shot him, he'd missed the mark.

“We usually require that our physicians have years of experience beyond their education. Unfortunately, we’ve recently lost several staff members and are short staffed. Gaius has spoken strongly on your behalf, and you have excellent recommendations from your clinical supervisors. As such, I am prepared to overlook your lack of practical experience.”

“Thank you."

“This is a very important season for the club, and for my son and me," Uther continued, and then looked at Gaius. "I expect you to be available to Arthur for whatever he needs, so you can sort out Mr. Emrys's responsibilities however you like to ensure that that happens." Turning back to Merlin, he said, "You will start on Monday. The club generally has practice every morning except for Wednesday, but that can change."

“Thank you,” Merlin said again, “I really appreciate your giving me a chance.”

“Don't make me regret it,” Uther said ominously, with the air of a man who could ruin someone's life if he saw fit. Merlin had no doubt at all that he could, and would, so he just nodded and stood up when Gaius did and followed him to the door.

“And Gaius,” Uther said when they were almost to the door, “Arthur’s knee is bothering him again. See what you can do about it.”

"Of course, I'll speak with him right away," Gaius said and then pulled the door closed behind him. Once they were clear of the reception area, Merlin let out a long, shaky breath.

“That went...well?” he asked, not really sure. Gaius smiled at him.

“I've been working for Uther for many years, Merlin. That went very well. Come, I'll show you around.”

“What did he mean about Arthur's knee?” Merlin asked as they walked to the lift. “Has he had problems with it?”

“It's an old injury,” Gaius said evasively, as though that were even possible at Arthur’s age. "It acts up every now and then." Merlin arched an eyebrow, but let it go. “You'll have to be especially careful around Arthur,” Gaius continued. “Don't tend to him without me; Uther will have your head if anything happens to him.”

"Fine by me. He's all yours.”

Gaius waited until they were on the lift to speak again. "I know I don't have to caution you about drawing attention to yourself--"

Merlin knew what was coming and automatically bristled. "Gaius--"

"-but subtlety has never been your strongest suit," Gaius continued, ignoring him. "I don't want to be worried that you're going to do something to reveal yourself."

"I haven't so far," Merlin said, watching the numbers tick down as the lift descended.

“I know,” Gaius said, putting a placating hand on his shoulder, “but you'll be under a lot of scrutiny here, much more than you would be even at hospital. You're exceptionally talented, Merlin, but you can't afford to raise suspicions.”

“I know,” Merlin muttered. He’d heard this particular lecture hundreds of times from both Gaius and his mother. Gaius continued, ignoring Merlin’s surly tone.

“Uther is a very...superstitious man, and I can't imagine he would be very open-minded about it. I know it's frustrating,” Gaius continued as they stepped off the lift. "I know you'd never agree not to use it, and I would never ask that of you, but promise me that you'll be careful."

“I promise I'll be careful.”

“And that you'll stay out of trouble.”

“I'll try."

Gaius looked ready to say something else, but then someone behind them called Gaius's name. They both turned at the same time, and Merlin immediately recognized the man jogging down the corridor toward them. It was impossible not to—pictures of him were plastered on nearly every surface in Elena’s room.

His stomach gave a nervous flutter as Gwaine approached. It was one thing to know peripherally that he'd be working with people that he saw on the telly and in magazines; it was entirely different to have one of them standing right in front of him. It was completely and utterly surreal.

Gwaine was just as gorgeous in person as he was in print. There was something very rogue-ish about him that appealed to Merlin. There had to be some sort of aesthetic requirement to play for the club, like an "anyone who wouldn't look equally as good modelling men’s underwear need not apply" sort of thing.

Thankfully, Gaius spoke up and distracted him before he could start to ponder just how good Gwaine would look modelling said underwear.

"Gwaine," Gaius said, "what are you still doing here? Practice ended hours ago."

"I stayed behind to do a bit of training."

"Nothing too strenuous, I hope," Gaius said.

Gwaine grinned, shrugging, before turning his gaze curiously to Merlin.

Gaius put a hand on Merlin’s shoulder. "This is Merlin, my nephew. He's going to be an assistant medic for the club this season."

Gwaine offered his hand. His smile was easy and wide, putting Merlin at ease. "Nice to meet you. I'm Gwaine."

"Yeah," Merlin said, "you, too."

"Merlin is starting on Monday, so I thought I'd show him around a bit before getting back to work," Gaius continued once they'd finished their greeting.

"Oh," Gwaine said, "I could take him around, if you have work to do."

Merlin's eyebrow arched in surprise, but Gaius just smiled. "Actually, that'd be lovely. Do you mind, Merlin?"

As if.

"No, not at all. I'll see you on Monday?"

"At 9:30," Gaius said, giving him a pointed look. "Not 9:35, mind you."

"All right, all right, I said I was sorry," Merlin said, letting Gaius pull him into a brief hug. "Go on, then, I don't want to keep you."

He waved them off, and then Gwaine turned to him, clapping his hands together.

"Come on, the clubhouse is this way," he said, and Merlin turned to follow. After a minute of comfortable silence he said, "So, Gaius's assistant, huh? How'd you swing that? You look a little young to be a doctor."

"Gaius is an old family friend. I’m in the last year of my degree. This is to be my clinical training."

"You must be the envy of your mates," Gwaine said while leading him into the clubhouse.

"I expect that'll be the case, yeah. Wow," Merlin said, looking around, "never thought I'd see the inside of one of these."

"You don't play?"

"No, the only time I ever tried, I spent more time on the ground than on my feet. I did manage to score once, though. For the other side."

Gwaine laughed loudly. "I'll keep that in mind if we're ever a man down--don't ask Merlin to fill in. Do you follow the club, at least?" he asked, guiding Merlin into a room off the main space, which housed several large stretching tables and cabinets that Merlin suspected were filled with medical supplies.

"Not really," Merlin admitted, pulling open one of the cabinets and taking stock of its contents. "I grew up in Ealdor, so I mostly followed them until I came here for school."

"Ah, the enemy," Gwaine said good-naturedly, hopping up to sit on a nearby table.

Merlin shrugged. "My best friend plays for them. He was always the one with the big footie dreams."

"Oh? Who?"

"Will Turner."

“Like the pirate?”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Don’t get me started. He’s been impossible ever since those bloody movies came out.”

"He's a defender, right?" Gwaine asked seriously, rubbing his chin.

"That's him," Merlin said, closing up the cabinet and looking at Gwaine. "Are you from Camelot?"

"Nah, I always hated the city," Gwaine replied. "I grew up on an estate out in the country.”

“Oh, posh boy,” Merlin said, relaxed enough by now to tease a bit. He paused, remembering something Elena had once mentioned. “Wait, isn’t your father a Duke or something?”

“Yeah, he is.”

“Why the bloody hell are you playing football then? Shouldn't you be off, I don’t know, shooting things? Ordering your servants about?”

“Because it pisses my father the hell off,” Gwaine said, devilish grin returning.

“I’ve never met a member of the nobility before. What does that make you, then? A Marquess? Do I need to call you ‘My Lord’ or something?”

Gwaine threw his head back, laughing, and wow, was he handsome. “Gwaine is fine. I only ever pull rank with Arthur when his head gets a little too big.”

“Oh?”

“They may call him ‘The Prince’ around here, but I actually do outrank him,” Gwaine said with a wink. Merlin tried not to blush.

“That happen often?”

“He’s all right once you get to know him,” Gwaine said vaguely. “It’s his father who’s really a piece of work.”

Merlin was about to ask for clarification, but Gwaine jumped down off the table. “Enough of that,” he said, “time to continue the tour!”

Merlin was a bit disappointed, but he followed Gwaine readily out of the room. He got the “greatest hits” tour, as Gwaine called it, or just enough for Merlin to more or less know where everything important was. Conversation flowed easily between them, and Merlin completely lost all of his earlier nerves, and even began looking forward to returning on Monday.

"So, any advice?" Merlin asked as they were walking toward the exit.

"What do you mean?"

"You know, for dealing with the other players. I know what it's like when there's a newcomer about."

"That's true," Gwaine said, "but we've got mostly good guys here, even if they try and take the piss out of you a bit.” He paused for a moment, and then, “Maybe stay away from Bors. And Gareth. Other than that, you should be fine.”

"Bors and Gareth, got it," Merlin said, squinting up into the sunlight when they got outside. "Well, thanks for showing me about. I appreciate it."

"No worries," Gwaine said, clapping him forcefully on the shoulder. Merlin barely managed to stay upright. "I'll see you on Monday, yeah?"

"Yeah, see you then," Merlin called as they went their separate ways. Grinning, he turned and started for the nearest train station.


“Hi," he said as soon as Elena picked up the phone.

“What happened?" she asked, sounding satisfyingly breathless.

“We-ell…,” he drawled, trying to draw out the suspense.

“Merlin, if you don’t tell me what happened this instant, I will come over there and kick you in the bollocks.”

“All right, all right,” he said, knowing that she would actually do it. “I got it!”

She shrieked so loudly he had to yank the phone away from his ear. “Tell me everything that happened right now,” she demanded when his ear stopped ringing. “Every single second."

"What's in it for me?"

"I'll bring liquor and some DVDs. And nail varnish. We can have cocktails and I'll do your nails while you tell me everything."

"...I'm not actually a girl, you know."

"Whatever, I'll bring black. You know you secretly love it because it makes you feel all emo and rebellious. I'll be there in less than an hour."

Forty-seven minutes later, Merlin heard the pounding on his door. He'd just finished getting dressed after a quick shower, so he padded out into the hall and pulled the door open. Elena immediately shoved two paper bags at him, one of them clinking promisingly.

"What did you bring?" he asked, peering into it as she turned him around and steered him into the sitting room.

"Rum, lots of rum, because I know it's your favourite. Now you just relax," she said, pushing him onto the couch, "and I will fix us some drinks."

"Sounds good to me," Merlin said, stretching out across the cushions. Elena came back a few minutes later with the drinks, put the first disc of Torchwood Series 2 into the DVD player, and settled on the floor next to the couch.

"Okay," she said, unscrewing the varnish cap. "Start at the beginning."


8 August 2010

Merlin stood quietly next to Gaius as Uther addressed the club. He'd spent the weekend learning everything he could about the club--names, medical histories, and anything else he thought would be helpful. Gaius's meticulous records had been a big help; Google had taken care of the rest. He could now name most of the faces he saw as he scanned the room.

One face he didn't need any help recognizing, of course, was Arthur Pendragon's. The handsome blond had commanded all of Merlin’s attention the moment he’d walked into the clubhouse.

He’d been going over recent injury reports with Gaius when his magic had stirred unbidden, surprising him. He’d looked up to find Arthur standing there, eyeing him critically for a moment before ignoring him to talk to Gaius, who’d just shrugged apologetically.

Now Arthur was sat sprawling on the dressing bench, shirtless, and he kept looking at Merlin. Not the quick, curious glances he’d been getting from some of the other players. No, Arthur was watching him in a lingering, assessing sort of way.

It made Merlin distinctly uncomfortable. His magic was still humming under his skin, and he had to clasp his twitching fingers tightly behind his back as he tried to focus on Uther.

"I know that I do not need to stress to you how very important this season is to the club," he was saying, "so I expect everyone to do their part to ensure Arthur's success."

Merlin risked a quick glance at Arthur, who was now looking at his father, his cheeks a bit pink, his gaze--angry? He made a mental note to ask Gaius later what that was all about.

Uther finished up his speech with more talk about pride and glory and other things that Merlin wasn't altogether interested in. When he was done, Gaius stepped forward to take advantage of the still mostly captive audience.

"Just a quick word, if I could, before you all go about your preparations," he said, and the rustling that had started when Uther finished speaking stopped.

"As you all know, we are short-staffed medically this year, and it's a bit of a chore for this old body to keep up with all of you," he continued, drawing a chuckle. "So Uther has allowed me to take on an assistant until more permanent arrangements can be made."

He gripped Merlin by the shoulder and pulled him forward. "This is Merlin. He'll be available to help with minor injuries and any day-to-day maintenance you might require. I will still be available, of course, to assist with more serious problems. Though let's try and keep those to a minimum this season, shall we?"

Merlin had pasted a generic smile onto his face as soon as Gaius started to speak, and he tried to maintain it while everyone's attention focused on him. Gwaine winked at him, which helped a bit.

Introduction over, Merlin retreated to the far end of the room where two of the massage tables had been set up. He was crouched down by the floor, packing up a supply bag for the pitch when he felt a presence at his back.

"Made it through the introduction, then,” Gwaine said, nudging him with a knee. Merlin smiled up at him.

"I didn't look too terrified, did I?"

"Only a little," Gwaine replied, and Merlin was once again grateful for his friendly, open nature. "Have a good weekend?"

"Very exciting--I spent most of it reading about you lot."

"Nothing too sordid, I hope."

"Oh, lots," Merlin said, mock seriously, "I know all your dirty secrets now, you'd better be careful."

Merlin was vaguely aware that he was flirting, but Gwaine didn't seem to notice, or mind it if he did. "Wanker," he said. "I don't have any secrets."

"Everyone has secrets," Merlin said, looking down at the open bag in front of him.

"Not me, I'm an open book," Gwaine said. "But enough idle chit chat. I require medical attention.” He nudged Merlin again. “Attend me, peasant.”

“And here I thought you were a nice rich person.”

“Oh, I’m nice all right,” was the reply, suggestive enough that Merlin had to fight to keep the blush off his face. He turned his attention back to the supply bag.

“What do you need?”

“An ankle wrap.”

Merlin shifted forward onto his knees, fishing a bandage out of the bag. “Something wrong with it?”

"Recovering from a bit of a sprain. No big deal," Gwaine said as he hoisted himself onto the table.

"Does it hurt?" he asked, taking the proffered foot and probing lightly at Gwaine's ankle.

"No, just a bit weak."

“You probably started back on it too soon,” Merlin said, a bit of censure in his voice.

“Spare me, I’ve already heard it from Gaius.”

Merlin hummed in response, his attention focused on the tendons around the joint. He could sense that the sprain was worse than Gwaine was letting on, and that the ankle wasn’t anywhere near recovered enough for him to be running on it. Bloody athletic types, Merlin thought. Too macho for their own good.

He wrapped his hand around the joint, using a bit of magic to help strengthen it and speed up the healing process. When he was satisfied, he started winding the bandage around it.

"Your hands are very warm," Gwaine remarked, causing Merlin to look up. Gwaine was watching his hands intently, a small crease between his eyebrows.

"Good circulation," he said, giving his standard excuse. It was an effect of the magic: it warmed his palms when he used it. He secured the fasteners to the end of the bandage. "How's that feel?" he asked as Gwaine stood up and tested the fit.

"Great, actually--feels real good."

"Take it easy, though, would you? You're going to wind up re-injuring yourself."

"Yes, mother."

"All right, run along then," Merlin said, shooing him with his hands. "I'm terribly busy."

Gwaine departed with a two-fingered salute, leaving Merlin smiling. He went back to packing the bag, but was interrupted again a few minutes later by someone else seeking a wrap, and then by someone who needed help stretching a tetchy calf muscle, and before he knew it nearly an hour had passed.

"Well, you were certainly busy," Gaius said approvingly once the last player had departed.

"Yeah, that wasn't so bad," Merlin said, standing from where he'd been crouched cleaning up. "I was expecting them to be a bit more resistant to my help."

"Oh, well, you know how it goes--once one person breaks the ice, everyone else is much more inclined to follow suit."

"I guess you're right," Merlin said slowly, realizing what Gwaine had done. It looked like he had yet another reason to be grateful to his new friend.

"If you're done in here, we can go out to the pitch now so you can watch for a while," Gaius said, a hint of a smile tugging at his lips. Merlin quickly chucked everything he was holding back onto the floor.

"Lead the way!"


Two hours later, Merlin's head was still buzzing with the excitement of being out on the pitch. He'd stayed out for the entire practice, watching as the players went through drill after drill before eventually falling into an informal scrimmage. It was amazing to be so close to it all--he'd pinched himself once just to make sure he wasn't actually dreaming.

He was carrying a large box full of supplies from the storeroom to the clubhouse when he heard raucous laughter down one of the side corridors. Curious, he detoured toward the noise, peering around a corner. What he saw made his heart drop down into his stomach.

Arthur and two of his teammates--Bors and Gareth, unsurprisingly--stood surrounding a younger boy, who was red faced and breathing heavily. As Merlin watched, Gareth tossed a set of keys over the boy's head to Arthur. Arthur held them up for everyone to see.

"Come on, then," he said, jiggling the keys tauntingly, "catch them."

He threw them to Bors, and though the boy made a valiant leap, they were still just out of his reach. Bors himself had to stretch up to grab them. The three players laughed at the boy's attempt, calling out to him mockingly.

After two more throws, Merlin had seen enough. He set his box down and came fully around the corner. Luckily, Gareth spotted him just as he threw the keys, so his aim was a bit off. They arced away from Arthur and toward Merlin, and he came up behind Arthur and snatched them out of the air before Arthur had the chance. Arthur turned to look at him, surprised.

"All right, that's enough, you've had your fun," Merlin said, his heart giving a nervous thump. He smiled at the boy, recognizing him now as one of the equipment hands he’d met earlier. "These are yours, I take it?"

"Yeah, thanks," he said. He shot Merlin a quick look of gratitude before running off, leaving Merlin alone with three large, annoyed footballers.

"Was that really necessary?" he asked, directing the question at Arthur.

"Was it necessary for you to stick your nose where it didn't belong?" Arthur shot back, an unattractive sneer on his face.

"He was just trying to do his job. There was no reason to be giving him a hard time." Merlin turned back toward the corridor he'd come from, eager to get somewhere more populated in case the players decided to take out their excess energy on him.

"Sure there was," Arthur said, following at a distance. "It was fun."

Something in Merlin's stomach twisted at the smugness in Arthur's voice, and he found his anger rising. Even so, he picked up his box calmly and said, "Of course--what was I thinking? You wouldn't know a sodding thing about having to work hard, would you?"

Arthur stopped dead in his tracks. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"People look up to you, you know," Merlin said, ignoring Arthur's question. "They love you. It's disappointing to find out that you're not worthy of it."

Bors and Gareth exchanged glances behind Arthur, whose face had gone red. "You don't know a fucking thing about me."

Merlin smiled at him, sadly. "I think I know enough," he replied, and then turned his back on the trio, ignoring Arthur's "Oi!" as he walked quickly toward the clubhouse.

Arthur caught up with him there, slamming the doors open. "Don't you dare walk away from me when I'm talking to you."

"You know,” Merlin said, tossing the box onto the ground. "I can see that it doesn't matter to you, but some of us actually have work to do."

"You can't talk to me like that," Arthur said haughtily, all entitlement and arrogance. Merlin couldn’t hold back his contempt any longer.

"Or what?" he snapped. "You'll run and tell your daddy and have me fired?"

A hush fell over the room, which was still half full of players winding down from practice. Merlin spotted Gwaine out of the corner of his eye, rising slowly to his feet.

The momentary distraction cost him; the next thing he knew, he was shoved hard, sending him tumbling backwards over the box he'd left in the middle of the floor. Gareth and Bors burst into loud laughter. There were a few other titters, but for the most part everyone remained silent, waiting to see what would happen.

A bit dazed (and a lot embarrassed), Merlin realized that this moment would dictate the way that every person in the room saw him--his reaction to Arthur's bullying would determine whether the players would take him seriously or just write him off as some transient unworthy of their attention.

It would most certainly get him fired, but Merlin would rather empty bedpans in hospital day and night than have anyone here think him a coward.

He stood slowly, brushing off his trousers and walking calmly toward Arthur. He was laughing with his two minions, obviously having decided that Merlin would just crawl away and take it.

"Excuse me," he said, waiting for Arthur to turn toward him before placing his hands on his chest and shoving as hard as he could. Someone gasped as Arthur flew backwards, landing hard on his back with a groan. He looked up at Merlin, stunned.

"Anything else?" Merlin asked calmly, dropping into a mock bow. "Or will that be all, my lord?"

Arthur suddenly kicked his leg out, sweeping Merlin's feet out from under him. Before he even knew what was happening, they were rolling around on the floor in a tangle of limbs. Merlin had never been in a fight before, so he focused mainly on not getting hit while simultaneously flailing his fists about in the hopes that they'd hit something. Preferably Arthur's smug, stupid face.

He was partially successful on both counts. Arthur managed to hit him clean only twice: once on the mouth, splitting his lip, and then he caught him high on his cheek. Merlin saw stars as the pain exploding across his face.

Blindly, he threw his fist out as hard as he could and connected with a solid thwap, making Arthur yelp. Merlin got in one more good shot to Arthur's jaw before Arthur was abruptly hauled off him. Someone grabbed Merlin as well, dragging him backwards and up onto his feet.

His ear was ringing from how hard Arthur had hit him, so he couldn't hear what Arthur was shouting at him. He started shouting back anyway, hurling any insults he could think of, until the doors to the clubhouse flew open and hit the walls with a resounding crack. Everyone stopped and turned to see Uther Pendragon standing in the doorway, his eyes screaming absolute bloody murder at Merlin.

"What," he asked, "is the meaning of this?"

Merlin opened his mouth to give him a good earful about what a complete arse his son was, but the arm wrapped around his chest--Gwaine's, he realized--tightened, cutting off his air supply. Arthur was too busy glaring at Merlin to reply. Uther's nostrils flared as he inhaled sharply.

"Clean yourselves up, and then I want to see both of you upstairs in my office."


Merlin winced as Gaius dabbed at the cut on his face.

"Ow!" he said, glaring at his uncle.

"Don’t start. What on earth were you thinking?"

"He started it!"

"This isn't primary school, Merlin. You're expected to act like an adult, not get into petty playground squabbles. You promised me you'd stay out of trouble."

"Look, I'm sorry, all right?" Merlin said, feeling a stab of guilt. "But he was bullying this poor kid, and I intervened. I walked away after, I swear I did, but then he followed me and wouldn't leave it. He shoved me. What was I supposed to do?"

"You were supposed to keep your head about you. He's Uther Pendragon's son."

"I don't care if he's the bloody Prime Minister’s son," Merlin said hotly. "I am not a coward, and I won't have anyone treat me like I'm worthless."

Gaius looked at him long and hard and then sighed. "What am I going to do with you?"

"I'm sorry," Merlin repeated, aware that this would reflect poorly on his uncle. "But he's a spoilt, arrogant prat."

"He's not usually this bad," Gaius said, dabbing at Merlin's face again, much gentler this time. "He's under a tremendous amount of pressure. Especially this year."

Remembering Uther's remark from earlier in the day, Merlin asked, "What did Uther mean this morning? When he was talking about helping Arthur succeed, or whatever."

Gaius paused to look at him. "You don't know?"

"I know that Uther keeps mentioning how important this year is, but that’s about it."

Gaius sighed, tossing the gauze into the disposal bin. "Arthur is on the verge of making history."

"As the biggest prat on the face of the planet?" Merlin asked, unable to help himself. He put on a contrite face when Gaius glared at him.

"He could become the youngest player ever to score 100 goals in professional competition."

Merlin frowned. "Actually, I think I remember reading something about that. So what, though?”

"It may not seem that big a deal to you, Merlin, but I assure you it is quite a remarkable feat."

"Fine, but I still don’t see why everyone’s knickers have to be in a twist because he got what was coming to him."

“He has to stay healthy the entire season if he’s to break the record. What if he'd been injured during your little scrum?"

Merlin looked down at himself, and then up at his uncle in disbelief. "You're joking, yeah? He's got several stone on me. If anyone was in danger of getting hurt, it was me."

Gaius finally gave him a small smile. "You appear to have held up well enough."

"World record or no, he’s still an arse,” he said sulkily, even though he was starting to see his uncle’s point. “Why should I care if he gets all the glory?"

"Merlin," Gaius said, "it's not just about Arthur. It's about Camelot--the club's fans, Arthur's fans--there are a lot of people who are excited about this, who want him to succeed. He doesn't want to let anyone down; it's a tremendous responsibility."

Merlin thought back to what he’d said to Arthur about not deserving the adoration heaped upon him. "Do you think he really cares about them? His fans?"

"I know that he does. You may think him a prat, and he may very well be at times, but he's always lovely to his fans. He considers it his duty to give them something to be proud of."

"I understand," Merlin said quietly. It didn't change the fact that Arthur was, at heart, an entitled, self-centred twat, but it was nice to know he at least appreciated the people who put him where he was.

"Good," Gaius said, straightening up. "Time to face the music. Uther is waiting."


Merlin was admitted immediately to Uther's office. Arthur was already there, along with a strikingly beautiful young woman with long, dark hair and eyes so green Merlin could see them clear across the room. She was currently examining Arthur's face.

"Shouldn't be too difficult to explain away, given some of the things--and people--you've pulled. This will seem tame by comparison."

Uther stood behind his desk, looking tired. "Morgana--"

The door clicked shut loudly behind Merlin, drawing everyone's attention. Uther's face immediately turned thunderous. "You--"

"--must be Merlin," Morgana said, striding confidently over to him. "Morgana Le Fay," she said, offering her hand. "I do public relations for the club."

"Nice to meet you," Merlin said, shaking her hand. He saw how this might be a bit of a publicity problem and was slightly afraid that this woman would skin him alive. She had a ruthless quality about her.

"Come in," she said, taking him by the arm in a surprisingly gentle grip, "while we figure out how we're going to deal with this."

"I'll tell you how we're going to deal with it," Uther began, still glaring at Merlin, which he thought was rather unfair given that they hadn't yet heard his side of the story. Arthur had probably been feeding them a big pile of lies.

"You punched my brother," Morgana said, cutting in before Uther could get going.

"He's your brother?" Merlin asked, surprised. They looked nothing alike.

"Step-brother," she said, waving her hand dismissively, "whatever. You hit him."

"Yes."

"You gave him a black eye."

Merlin looked at Arthur for the first time. His left eye was swollen shut, the start of what would indeed be an impressive shiner. Feeling rather proud of that, he stood up a bit straighter and looked Morgana directly in the eye when he answered, "Yes."

"Did he deserve it?"

"Absolutely."

Uther spluttered, but Morgana held her hand up and silenced him immediately. Merlin’s mind boggled at the power. He tried not to fidget while she studied his face, and then she broke into a wide grin.

"I like you," she announced. "I think we're going to be good friends."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Arthur roll his good eye.

"You most certainly will not," Uther snapped, apparently having had it with being ignored. "How dare you?" he asked, turning the full force of his ire on Merlin, "how dare you do this? After the opportunity I gave you, this is how you repay me? Attacking my son like some...some ruffian?"

"Attacking?" Merlin spluttered. "Is that what he told you? I--"

"Silence!" Uther said, slamming his hands on his desk. "You will not talk back to me."

This was starting to go much more the way Merlin had anticipated. "Yes, sir."

"You are dismissed. Effective immediately. I want you out of this stadium within the hour. Is that understood?"

Merlin bit the inside of his cheek, surprised at the crushing disappointment he felt. It wasn't like he hadn't been expecting this. He nodded.

"I've half a mind to take this up with Gaius as well," Uther continued. "Apparently I was wrong to trust his judgment."

His stomach sinking with dread, Merlin opened his mouth to protest. He was cut off by Arthur.

"Father."

Uther looked at his son, his glare softening a little, but not much. "What?"

"It was my fault."

Merlin's mouth fell open in shock. Uther looked equally stunned, while Morgana just looked suspicious.

"What are you talking about?" Uther snapped.

"I can't allow you to punish Gaius, or Merlin, for something that was my fault."

Merlin was caught somewhere between disbelief that Arthur was actually defending him and the completely surreal experience of hearing his name come out of Arthur Pendragon's mouth.

"What do you mean it was your fault?"

Arthur cleared his throat. "Some of the other players and I, we were...teasing one of the equipment hands, and Merlin intervened. I reacted poorly."

"So you started the altercation."

"I pushed him, yes."

Merlin couldn't believe his ears--was Arthur actually trying to save his job? Uther was apparently also dumbfounded, because he turned to Merlin for confirmation.

"Is this true?"

"Um--yes. Yes, it is."

Uther looked almost disappointed. "Oh. Well, then."

"I suppose Merlin isn't fired, in that case?" Morgana asked, winking at Merlin.

"No, I suppose not," Uther said. "But I am warning you,” he continued, placing his hands flat on the desk and leaning forward, "that this is your final chance. I will not tolerate fighting of any sort, and if something like this happens again, you will be finished. No matter who is at fault. Is that understood?"

"Understood," Merlin said quickly.

"You may go," Uther said. "Not you, Arthur," he interjected when Arthur turned toward the door. Merlin paused on his way out to look back--Uther's anger was obviously directed at Arthur now.

"Come on," Morgana said quietly, appearing beside him. "I'll walk out with you."

"Is he going to get into trouble?" Merlin asked, feeling inexplicably guilty. Morgana's grimace was confirmation enough.

"It's not really that big of a deal," Merlin continued as she ushered them toward the lift. "He shouldn't be too hard on him."

"Uther is always hard on him. It's nothing new, don't worry."

Still, Merlin couldn't help but feel that this was partly his fault. "I think I'm going to wait. You know, make sure everything's all right," he clarified when Morgana shot him a confused look.

"You don't have to--"

"I know. I want to."

She tilted her head, considering, before smiling at him. "It was nice meeting you. I hope to see you around."

"You, too," he said, genuinely. He waited until she got on the lift and then turned back, sitting himself in the waiting room, ignoring the disapproving murmur from Uther's secretary.

It was nearly a half hour before Arthur came out, red-faced and looking tired. Merlin stood up, and Arthur started when he saw him.

"What are you still doing here?" he asked, a scowl starting to form. "Stayed behind to gloat, have you?"

"What? No, I--I wanted to make sure that you--that everything was all right."

Arthur gave him an odd look and walked past him out into the corridor. Merlin followed.

"What do you care?" Arthur threw back over his shoulder. "You've still got your job."

"Thank you for that, by the way," Merlin said. The words tasted a bit bitter coming out, but Arthur hadn't actually had to intercede on his behalf. "I know you didn't have to say anything."

"Yes, well, next time mind your own sodding business, and we won't have to go through something like this," Arthur said, jabbing angrily at the button.

"Yes, well, next time perhaps you shouldn’t be such a gigantic arse," Merlin shot back at him, his temper getting up again as the doors opened.

"Are you always this annoying?" Arthur asked, exasperated.

"Are you always this much of a prat?" Merlin snapped. Arthur didn't appear to have an answer, other than to look at Merlin again. He thought he saw the corners of Arthur's mouth twitch, but decided he must have been seeing things. “Why did you intervene, then, if I’m so annoying?”

Arthur didn’t answer, and they rode the rest of the way in a tense silence. Right before the doors opened, Arthur said, "There's something about you, Merlin."

Merlin blinked. What did that even mean? It was probably an insult, like Merlin had some sort of mental affliction, but before Merlin could come up with a retort, Arthur was out of the lift. He followed, scowling, trying to catch up, until they ran into Gwaine.

"Is everything all right?" he asked. The question was for both of them, but he was looking at Merlin. Arthur's good eye darted quickly back and forth between them, a small crease appearing between his brows before vanishing. He clapped Gwaine on the shoulder.

"Fine," Arthur said, which Merlin immediately wanted to argue, because everything was most certainly not fine, thank you very much. "I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"

Gwaine nodded. He turned to Merlin, who was busy glaring at Arthur, annoyed that he'd gotten the last word. "Merlin?"

"Yeah?"

"All right?"

Merlin shook himself. "Fine, fine. I've not been fired yet."

"That's great.” Gwaine said, grinning. "So what happened?"

"Oh. Well, technically he did fire me, but then Arthur interceded on my behalf, oddly enough, so I was un-fired."

"I told you, he’s all right once you get to know him," Gwaine said.

"Sorry, don't buy it." After all, it wasn’t as thought he’d be getting to know Arthur at all, not after the day’s events.

"He saved your job."

"Which wouldn't have been in jeopardy had it not been for him," Merlin reminded him. "They shouldn't have been picking on that kid."

Gwaine shifted uneasily from foot to foot. "I know it's hard to believe when you see things like that."

"A bit."

“He was an arse the first time I met him, too,” Gwaine conceded. “But once you prove yourself, he's fine."

"I have to prove myself? What is this, Fight Club?"

Gwaine laughed. "Certainly didn’t look like it earlier. You fight like a complete girl."

"You’d better watch it--I gave the mighty Arthur Pendragon a black eye."

"I think that was more luck than anything. Besides, you can’t hit a member of the nobility. I’m pretty sure that’s punishable offence.”

"Probably. I'm a lover, anyway, not a fighter," he said, blushing when Gwaine quirked an eyebrow. "I've never been in a fight before. I just didn't want everyone thinking I was some pansy who can't stick up for himself."

"You did the right thing, I think. The general consensus seems to be that you're a bit of an idiot, but a brave one."

"Great," Merlin muttered, wondering how that was possibly a good thing.

"Come on," Gwaine said, slinging an arm over Merlin’s shoulders. "Let's go find your uncle and let him know you're still employed. After that, we'll work on your right hook."

Merlin grinned, letting Gwaine lead him to the clubhouse.


12 September 2010
Goals Needed to Break Record: 29

 

“Merlin!”

Merlin paused in his conversation with Gaius and turned toward Percival’s voice. His eyes widened as he saw the giant keeper rushing across the pitch toward him.

“What on earth?” he heard his uncle mutter just before Percival bent down to seize Merlin about the knees.

“Oi!,” he yelled when Percival stood, hoisting him over a shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Put me down!”

Percival just laughed and set off back toward the center of the pitch. Merlin scowled when even Gaius started chuckling, waving at Merlin and heading for the training room.

“Where are we going?” Merlin asked his captor. He knew it was useless to struggle, because Percival was built like a brick house and it wouldn’t make any difference.

He could hear Gwaine laughing, so he assumed that he was being transported to his extremely annoying friend. Percival set him down a moment later, and then grabbed him again quickly to steady him when all the blood rushed out of Merlin’s head.

“All right there, Merlin?” Gwaine asked. Merlin glared at him.

“What was all that about?”

Next to Gwaine, Leon laughed loudly.

“I asked Percival to get you. I didn’t know he’d be such a caveman about it, though.”

“Lazy arse,” Merlin grumbled, kicking Gwaine’s ankle before flopping down on the grass next to him. It was still warm for September, and they were seated in a haphazard circle, all the other players Merlin had become friendly with: Leon, Lancelot, Elyan, and Percival.

Sitting off to the side a bit, watching them all warily, was Arthur.

They hadn’t spoken at all since their altercation. Arthur tended to pretend that Merlin didn’t exist whenever they were around each other. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible for Merlin to do the same. Aside from the fact that Arthur’s face was on the telly and in the tabs daily, Merlin couldn’t help seeing him when he was working.

It’d started to sting a bit, because Arthur seemed to get on just fine with everyone else. Merlin always saw him with his teammates, or with Gaius, throwing his head back and laughing his stupid, hearty laugh.

And then Merlin would see him with his fans, or watch him coaching a group of under-privileged youths on one of the club’s charity days, or hear about him visiting sick children in hospital, and it became much more difficult to judge him so harshly.

Anyone who did things like that couldn’t be all bad, could they? Merlin couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was wrong with him that he was the only person that Arthur didn’t seem interested in charming.

(“It’s not fair,” he’d complained to Elena one night over a basket of chips. “It’s not as though I’m a bad person. I’m not. I’m very nice.”

“It’s the sexual tension,” Elena had said matter-of-factly. “You’re both dying to shag each other and have no idea how to go about it.”

And really, he should’ve known better than to complain to Elena. She was of the opinion that he and Arthur were destined for an Epic Gay Romance and that all of this was some sort of bizarre foreplay.)

He wasn’t sure she was entirely wrong, though. Every so often the skin on the back of his neck would prickle, and he’d look up and around in time to catch Arthur’s eyes darting away from him, or to see him suddenly fascinated by something in Merlin’s vicinity.

He couldn’t deny that he himself was attracted to Arthur—he was gorgeous, after all. He hated it, but Arthur was so pretty, and when he was laughing or smiling Merlin often found it difficult to look away.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Merlin’s magic seemed to love Arthur. Just like it had that first day, it would start humming restlessly under his skin whenever Arthur was nearby. It was doing it now, and Merlin caught himself staring at the blond, who was staring right back at him. Merlin scowled and flung himself back onto the grass, crossing his arms over his face.

He realized his mistake too late. Gwaine let out a whoop, and then he was on top of Merlin, trying to wrestle his arms behind him.

“Stop it, you wanker,” Merlin said, laughing, trying to avoid Gwaine’s restraining grip. He'd gotten used to this-Gwaine enjoyed ambushing Merlin for impromptu wrestling sessions.

Merlin didn’t mind all that much. Rolling around on the ground with hot blokes was something he thoroughly enjoyed. And he was no pushover, as he proved when he managed to roll Gwaine over and pin him face down on the pitch, letting out a whoop of triumph.

“Take that!” he crowed, and Lancelot let out a loud laugh.

“Should we leave you two alone?” he smirked, and Elyan reached over and punched him on the shoulder.

“Making dirty jokes, Lance? Obviously you’ve been spending too much time with Gwaine.”

Lancelot was married to Elyan’s sister, a lovely teacher named Gwen. Merlin had immediately loved Gwen, and she and Lance made a ridiculously perfect couple. He went to grin at Lance, but was distracted by Arthur, who stood up abruptly and brushed his hands off.

“I’ll you see lot tomorrow,” he said before setting off for the locker room. Merlin frowned after him.

“Honestly, do I smell or something?” he asked, raising his arm to sniff underneath. “What is his problem with me?”

“You punched him in the face,” Gwaine said, heaving to the side and dumping Merlin half onto the grass and half onto Leon.

“Sorry,” Merlin said, righting himself. “And that was nearly two months ago. And he started it.”

Leon shrugged. “Still. He won’t admit it, but I think he’s pretty ashamed of what happened. It really wasn’t like him.”

Merlin squinted at him. Leon was engaged to Morgana, and they’d dated for years prior to that, so he knew Arthur pretty well.

“He’s got a funny way of showing it,” Merlin groused, wrapping his arms around his knees.

“What d’you want, flowers?” Percival asked, chewing on a blade of grass. Merlin had thought him a bit dim at first, with his brawn and dopey grin, but he was actually quite shrewd.

“’Course not,” Merlin said, but he could feel himself blushing a bit. The thought of Arthur giving him flowers was weirdly unsettling. “He could stop running away every time I come into the same room as him, though.”

“He’ll come around,” Leon said, pushing up off the grass. “Come on, let’s go play some table football.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. The table had been installed a week ago, and everyone was utterly obsessed with it. “No thanks,” he said, letting Gwaine haul him to his feet. “I’ve got to go home and do some work.”

“Ah yes,” Gwaine said, slinging an arm around Merlin’s shoulders. “School first, play later. Maybe you can come out with us later.”

“Isn’t there a match tomorrow?” Merlin asked, letting Gwaine lead him toward the clubhouse.

“Tomorrow night,” Elyan called before he and Percival raced off, presumably to be the first ones at the table. Gwaine abandoned him a moment later, their friendship no match for the call of table footie.

“Idiots,” he muttered, following them inside.


Thirty minutes later, he was nearly done straightening everything and packing up when he heard a sound behind him. He turned to see Arthur standing in the doorway. Merlin had assumed he’d gone home, but he’d obviously been training, because his skin was flushed and his hair still damp with sweat.

Merlin ignored the way his stomach squirmed nervously and schooled his face into a bored expression.

“Something you needed?” he asked, proud at how even his voice was, even as his magic perked up to take notice of Arthur’s presence.

“Where’s Gaius?” Arthur asked, looking around the room, as though Merlin was hiding him in a cupboard or something.

“He’s left already.”

“Oh,” Arthur said, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. God, what was it that made him act so oddly around Merlin?

“Yeah, and I’m getting ready to leave myself, so unless you needed something—“

“My shoulder,” Arthur blurted suddenly, surprising Merlin into silence.

“What’s wrong with it?” Merlin asked, trying to sound professional, but it was difficult with Arthur standing there looking flustered.

“I’ve got a twinge,” Arthur said. “It happens sometimes. Gaius has a salve he uses for it.”

“Easy enough,” Merlin said, waving his arm at one of the tables. “Hop on.”

Arthur just eyed him dubiously. Irritated, Merlin said, “Or don’t, but decide either way because I’d like to leave sometime today.”

Arthur rolled his eyes, but he grabbed at the back of his shirt and pulled. Completely of their own volition, Merlin’s eyes tracked the hem as it rode up Arthur’s flat stomach and chest. He yanked it off over his head, leaving his hair a mess. “No reason to be rude,” he said, but he only sounded mildly irritated.

"Of course not, because you're always so delightful," Merlin muttered, tearing his eyes away from Arthur's torso and turning back to the supply cupboard. The back of his neck prickled, and Merlin looked back over his shoulder to find Arthur studying him carefully, not bothering to turn his eyes away this time.

He turned away quickly, feeling his cheeks start to heat. Damn it, Arthur Pendragon was not going to see him blush like some sodding schoolgirl. He rooted around until he found something that looked like it might be useful.

"This it?" he asked, tossing the jar at Arthur, half-hoping it'd bounce off his nose or something, but the wanker just plucked it smoothly out of the air. He opened it and gave it a sniff.

"That's not it."

He strode over to where Merlin was standing and peered into the cupboard. The sudden invasion of his personal space startled him. He hadn’t been this close to Arthur since the fight, and he could feel the warmth radiating off Arthur's (naked, very naked) skin.

He took a quick step away, wanting distance from the warmth and from Arthur's smell. He was certain sweat wasn't ever supposed to smell that good.

Arthur glanced at Merlin, a quick flick of his eyelashes, before scanning the contents of the cupboard and pulling another jar out. After a quick sniff, he held it out to Merlin.

"Here."

Unwilling to make eye contact just yet, Merlin reached out blindly, closing his hand around the jar, and Arthur's fingers along with it. They both jerked their hands back at the same time. The jar clattered to the floor, snapping Merlin out of his stupor.

"Clumsy," Arthur said, smirk evident in his voice.

"Piss off."

Embarrassed, Merlin crouched to retrieve the jar, using the time to regain his composure. His fingers were actually tingling where they'd brushed Arthur's, his magic swirling around happily. It was very unsettling.

Arthur just snorted in response and walked back over to the table, hoisting himself up onto it. Merlin took a moment to glare at his back and then followed, stopping to grab a stool.

He set it down by the table and used it to climb up behind Arthur, kneeling so that he was at a proper angle to work on Arthur's shoulder. His balance was a bit shaky at first, so he automatically placed a hand on Arthur to steady himself.

Merlin froze as his palm tingled again. His magic had been active since Arthur had appeared at the door, but he was surprised to feel it surge through him now. It started deep within his sternum and then rushed down his arm toward Arthur, all without any effort on his part.

He snatched his hand back, looking down at it. His magic never, ever acted on its own. Even when he was actively preparing to use it, it stayed where it was, pulsing quietly until Merlin was ready to direct it. But now it was restless, refusing to retreat, buzzing under his skin as though angry at him for thwarting its attempt to get to Arthur.

Curious, he put his hand back on Arthur's shoulder. The buzzing immediately changed to a happy sort of hum and once again surged forward toward Arthur. He tried pulling it back to a more subtle level. This was more than he'd ever used on anyone, and there was no way Arthur wouldn't notice. It eventually responded, but it was a struggle.

Arthur threw a questioning look back over his shoulder, shaking Merlin out of his musings.

"Sorry," he said, reaching for the salve, "got distracted."

"For someone who was in such a rush to leave, you're moving rather slowly."

Merlin smeared the salve on Arthur's shoulder without warming it first, as he normally would've done. Arthur jumped, shooting him a glare. Merlin just smiled and started rubbing it in, moving his thumb in slow, soothing circles.

Putting his free hand on Arthur's other shoulder to steady him, Merlin worked the salve in, quickly finding and isolating the aggravated muscle. He pressed hard on it with his thumb, and Arthur let out a grunt.

"All right?" Merlin asked.

"Yeah," came the response, but Merlin could see him wincing as he applied more pressure.

"You know, since it keeps bothering you, you should probably stop lifting until it clears up," Merlin commented, starting to sweat from the effort of holding back the swell of magic inside him.

"Yes, mum, thank you," Arthur said snottily. Merlin just rolled his eyes and focused back on his task.

Arthur's skin was surprisingly soft, supple as Merlin kneaded at it, rolling the heel of his hand across it again and again. He didn't do much massage therapy in general, but he'd always enjoyed the quiet repetitiveness of it; he found it soothing. This time was no different. He found himself starting to relax, his breathing getting deeper as he got more comfortable touching Arthur.

His grip on his magic also loosened, allowing it to slowly flow into Arthur. It was still more than he’d ever used on anyone, so he started kneading Arthur's other shoulder as well, hoping to spread out any effect it might have.

After a few minutes, Arthur's head drooped. Merlin finally felt him relax completely into the touch, which only served to highlight how rigidly Arthur had been holding himself.

"Feels good," he mumbled as Merlin's thumbs inched their way toward his neck.

"Guess I'm not completely useless after all," Merlin said, trying for light.

Arthur just took a deep breath in reply, drawing Merlin's attention to the breadth of his shoulders as they rose under his hands. He tried to keep himself from noticing other things, like the way the damp hair curled at the base of Arthur's neck, or the strangely fascinating knob at the top of his spine. All things that were entirely inappropriate to think of when he was touching Arthur in a somewhat intimate manner.

He pushed those thoughts away, concentrating on keeping his magic under control. It didn't seem to be having any ill effects so far, and Arthur didn't seem to notice. He just rolled with the movements of Merlin's hands, totally pliant.

Merlin kept at it until he couldn't feel any more tightness, and therefore couldn't justify continuing to touch Arthur. Reluctantly, he let go.

"Okay, I think that's--"

He was forced to cut himself off when he had to lunge to grab Arthur, who had lurched forward the moment Merlin's hands left him. Once he was sure Arthur's face wasn't going to smash into the floor, he scrambled down off the table and came around to Arthur's front, shaking his shoulder.

"Arthur. Arthur," he repeated, starting to panic.

He shook Arthur again, lifting his chin and smacking his cheek lightly with the back of his hand. He was having a bit of trouble holding Arthur up while he attempted to revive him; Arthur was heavy and it was all dead weight at the moment. Bloody hell, what if he'd put him into some sort of magical fucking coma?

Thankfully, after another agonizing moment, Arthur inhaled sharply and his eyes blinked open, focusing blearily on Merlin.

"Oh, thank God," Merlin said, shoulders sagging in relief. He kept his hands on Arthur's shoulders--he still looked a bit unsteady.

"What happened?" Arthur asked, passing a hand over his face.

"You tell me," Merlin said, ducking his face so he could look into Arthur's eyes. "Do you feel all right? You just...passed out."

"Fine," Arthur said, holding still while Merlin checked his pupils. "I feel good. Great, actually."

Merlin frowned. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I think I just, I don't know--fell asleep for a minute."

Huh. Interesting. Merlin filed that reaction away for future reference. Outwardly, he put on a smug smile. "That good, was I?"

Arthur didn't say anything. His gaze was locked on Merlin's face, and Merlin was suddenly conscious of his hands on Arthur's bare skin. There was a buzzing under his skin again, though this time it didn't anything to do with magic. Merlin opened his mouth to say something, anything, to break the heavy moment, and to his complete astonishment, Arthur's gaze dropped to his mouth.

His heart started knocking about in his chest and he quickly stood, clearing his throat. Arthur blinked, as though in a stupor, and then a flush spread slowly across his cheeks.

"I should get going," he said, sliding off the table, staying as far away from Merlin as he possibly could given the limited amount of space.

Merlin was glad for the reprieve, but Arthur’s reaction still irked him a bit. It wasn't exactly a secret that Arthur slept with anything that moved; was Merlin really that repulsive?

"Yeah," he replied, annoyed.

Arthur shuffled around for a bit, his posture hunched while he gathered up his shirt. He made it to the door and then paused, looking back at Merlin.

"Thanks," he said, "for the--"

"Yeah sure, don't worry about it."

Another moment of awkward silence, and then the door clicked shut, leaving Merlin alone. He let out the breath he'd been holding and leaned back onto the table, trying to sort out what the hell had just happened.


2 October 2010
Camelot City vs. Camelot United
Goals Needed to Break Record: 23

 

Merlin hated Saturday afternoon matches. He was always busiest before a match, so he had to be at the stadium early and couldn’t sleep in. He’d been caught napping in the training room often enough that Gwaine started bring him huge caffeinated beverages to keep him awake.

“I love you,” Merlin said as he took the large cup from his friend. “How many shots this week?”

“Four,” Gwaine replied, shaking the rain out of his hair. “If your heart explodes from the caffeine jolt, I refuse to be held responsible.”

Merlin hummed happily, sipping at the hot liquid. He had opened his mouth to reply when Arthur walked into the training room, his stride faltering a bit when he saw the two of them standing together. He recovered quickly, nodding at them both before moving to his spot on the dressing bench.

Merlin felt the usual drop in his belly at Arthur’s appearance. Nearly three weeks had passed since that day in the training room, and things had been--interesting. He and Arthur still didn’t talk any more than was strictly necessary, but their interactions were less abrasive than they had been. Arthur didn’t seek him out, but he didn’t avoid him either. And Merlin often caught Arthur staring at him openly, and it was only when Merlin would move or say something that Arthur would jump and look away, embarrassed.

He himself was in a bit of a bad way. He still remembered the way Arthur’s skin felt, and how he’d smelled, and he kept catching glances of Arthur half-dressed in the training room. It had all blossomed into a bit of an embarrassing crush, which wasn’t at all helped on by the fact that Arthur was no longer being a complete pillock.

He didn’t realize he was staring until Gwaine cleared his throat, snapping Merlin out of his reverie.

“Sorry,” he said, “did you say something?”

Gwaine rolled his eyes, but thankfully didn’t comment. “I asked if you were going to come out and watch the match today.”

He’d been planning on napping, actually, but he didn’t want to admit that. He doubted he’d be able to now anyway, what with the gigantic coffee he was drinking.

“Oh. Yeah, I guess I could. Weather’s shit, though.”

“All you have to do is stand around in a nice, warm club jacket and watch. We actually have to run around in it.”

“Well, when you put it that way….”

He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he was starting to really love following the matches. He didn’t get into it as much on the telly, but he loved watching live. The atmosphere in the stadium was always electric, especially at home where the club was undefeated. The cheer that erupted when the players walked out onto the pitch never failed to send a thrill down his spine.

He took his seat with the other club employees. Gaius was safely ensconced in his warm office, and they had emergency personnel on hand, so he could sit back and enjoy the match.

The crowd was extra fired up today. Arthur had scored in his last two matches, and they were all expecting another today. Arthur, too, had some extra life in his step, charging up and down the pitch, weaving effortlessly between defenders. He was creeping closer to the record with every game, and Merlin couldn’t help but get caught up in it. Secretly, of course.

Though when Arthur found the back of the net to break a tie in the eighty-first minute, Merlin cheered just as loudly as everyone else.


Merlin had just finished securing an ice pack to Elyan’s shoulder when a knock came at the door.

He looked over to see Arthur standing there, looking a bit awkward. He’d been substituted immediately after his goal, so he was in a hoody and tracksuit bottoms rather than his kit. Elyan nudged Merlin as he slid off the table and clapped Arthur on the back as he scooted past him. Merlin cleared his throat.

"Gaius is up in his office, if you're looking for him." Even though almost everyone else had started coming to Merlin first, Arthur still worked exclusively with Gaius.

"Oh. Right. Actually, I--uh, I was wondering if you had a moment to spare," Arthur said, sounding uncertain.

"Sure," he replied, standing, "what did you need? Shoulder bothering you again?”

“What? No. No, it’s fine. Hasn’t bothered me since you worked on it, actually.”

He’d known that, of course, but he couldn’t help feeling a bit smug about it. But if Arthur wasn’t here for that, what did he want?

“Something else, then?”

Arthur sighed, frustrated. “Well, if you’d just let me speak without asking any questions—“

“Fine, fine,” Merlin said, putting his hands up. He didn’t particularly feel like dealing with any awkwardness at the moment. But if that was what Arthur wanted….

Arthur shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sorry, sorry. I just—I wanted to say that—I made a mistake, the way I acted that first day.”

Merlin’s eyebrows shot up. For all that Arthur had saved his job, he’d never actually apologized to Merlin. “Are you apologizing?”

Arthur frowned, looking a bit put out. “I’m not actually a complete arse, Merlin; I know when I’ve behaved inappropriately.”

His face was bright red. Arthur might know when he’d behaved inappropriately, but Merlin could tell that he didn’t often admit it. Merlin didn’t want to belittle the effort.

“No, I—sorry, I appreciate it.” He waited a moment before continuing. “I’m sorry, too, for my part in it. Even though you did start it.”

Arthur narrowed his eyes, but Merlin could see the corner of his mouth twitch. That made Merlin smile, and for the first time since—well, ever, he felt himself relax in Arthur’s presence.

Arthur smiled, too, briefly, before the nervous look was back on his face. He licked his lips before continuing. “I don’t know if Gaius told you, but I’ve had some problems with my knee, and....“

The change of topic was so quick that Merlin blinked, an uncomfortable feeling settling in his gut. “You do know that I’m required to help you, don’t you? It’s my job. There was no reason to try and butter me up beforehand.”

“What? No!” Arthur protested immediately, “I didn’t—I wasn’t ‘buttering you up’ so you’d look at my knee.” He looked so outraged that Merlin would dare question his sincerity that Merlin immediately felt guilty. Arthur’s expression hardened. “Forget that I brought it up.”

He turned to leave. Merlin realized that if Arthur left, whatever fragile truce they’d just managed would break, and any chance of moving past this weird awkwardness between them would be gone.

“Wait,” he said, “I’m sorry. You’re right, that wasn’t fair.” When Arthur turned back, nodding stiffly in acknowledgment, Merlin prompted, “Your knee?”

Arthur sighed, running a hand through his hair. “It bothers me. Every day.”

“What happened to it?”

“I had a bad fall when I was younger, tore some of the ligaments.”

Merlin could tell that he didn’t want to talk about it. “What have you and Gaius been doing for it?”

Arthur came further into the room, crossing his arms over his chest. “I think he’s done everything he can do, short of sending me for surgery. Which I plan to do,” he added quickly, “but for obvious reasons, I can’t do it until the season is over.”

Merlin cocked his head. “If he’s been working on it, and it hasn’t helped, why ask me?”

“Uh, well,” he started, scratching the back of his neck. “Like I said, my shoulder. Gaius had been working on that too, but it always came back. Since you worked on it, it’s felt fine. I just thought you might have a different approach.”

Merlin watched Arthur carefully. He looked miserable in a way that told Merlin this was really bothering him. Trying to fill the silence, Arthur pressed on.

“I know there’s no quick fix, yeah? I just wondered if there was anything you’d studied in school, some—I don’t know, new treatment method or something that might get me through to the end of the season.”

Arthur kept talking, compelled by nerves, or awkwardness. Merlin realized that this was something out of the ordinary; that this man hated asking for help or showing any kind of weakness. The fact that he’d put himself out there to Merlin softened him.

“All right,” Merlin said, “I’ll take a look.”

“Really?”

Arthur looked so surprised that Merlin had to laugh. “If you were so convinced that I was going to say no, why’d you even bother asking?”

Arthur’s answering grin was rather disarming. “I don’t know. I didn’t think, given the way I’ve behaved—“ At that, his grin faltered a bit.

“Arthur.”

“Yeah?” Merlin inclined his head at the padded massage table. “Oh, right.”

Arthur walked over to the table, reaching for the waistband of his tracksuit bottoms. Merlin’s mouth went dry when he realized what Arthur was doing. He looked away, ignoring the rustling sounds that indicated that Arthur was undressing. Instead, he concentrated on focusing his magic, which had been flitting all over the place for the past several minutes.

When he felt composed enough, he turned to face Arthur. Who was sitting--no, lounging--on the table in his hoody and a pair of grey boxer briefs, which did wonders for showcasing his powerful thighs. Merlin paused long enough that a smirk bloomed on Arthur’s face.

“See something you like, Merlin?”

And just like that, the uncertain, vulnerable Arthur was gone, replaced by the twat Merlin had sort of come to know. Merlin found he didn’t mind as much; it helped him forget how attracted he was to the idiot.

“I know you’re under the impression that everyone on the planet wants to shag you,” Merlin said lightly, approaching the table, “but I assure you, I have standards.”

“Such as?”

“It’s your right knee, yeah?” Merlin asked, ignoring the question.

“How did you know?”

“You favour it,” Merlin replied, placing one hand underneath Arthur’s knee and the other on top. His palms immediately began to buzz at the contact.

“Been watching me, have you?”

“Oh my God, will you shut up?” Merlin said, though he couldn’t quite keep his lips from quirking into a smile. He had to give the man credit—his ego was astronomically large.

Miraculously, Arthur did stay quiet as Merlin led him through a series of exercises, which were mainly for show. Merlin could tell immediately through his magic how bad Arthur’s knee was. The ligaments were damaged, and years’ worth of scar tissue had built up around them. It was a miracle that it’d held up this long.

Merlin opened his eyes briefly to glare at Arthur. “Are you mental? I can’t believe you’ve been running on this.”

“It’s bad, I know,” Arthur said, chewing on his lip. “Do you think you can do anything?”

Merlin sighed, running a hand through his hair. He could, of course, fix it with his magic. But to avoid being obvious, he’d have to do it over time.

“I mean, I can try. There are strengthening exercises you can do to take pressure off your knee, and I can try and break up the scar tissue. But it’s a vicious cycle, see, because you have surgery to get rid of the scar tissue, but the surgery creates more scar tissue, etcetera. The best way to go about it is to be proactive when the injury first happens, and….”

He trailed off, because Arthur was watching him, fascinated.

“What?” he asked, self-consciously.

Arthur blinked. “Nothing. Uh, that’s just the most I’ve ever heard you speak, is all.”

“Oh, because you’ve tried so hard to engage me in conversation?”

“I apologized!”

“For attacking me. I don’t recall one for being a complete prat since then.”

Arthur threw his head back and laughed loudly, stunning Merlin into silence. He trailed off into chuckling, shaking his head.

“There really is something about you, Merlin.”

“So you’ve said,” Merlin replied, trying not to stare too hard at Arthur’s smiling face.

“Indeed,” Arthur said, swinging his legs off the side of the table. “So, you’ll help me work on it?”

He looked so hopeful, and it was so different from the stiff, standoffish Arthur he’d gotten used to that Merlin caved immediately.

“Yeah. We can start on Monday.”

“Brilliant!” Arthur hopped off the table and reached for his bottoms. Once he’d pulled them on, he placed a hand on Merlin’s shoulder. It felt warm, and very large.

“Thank you, Merlin. I mean it,” he said, looking Merlin straight in the eye. He could only nod in response, his heart beating a bit too fast, watching as Arthur walked to the door. Once he was gone, Merlin sat down hard in the nearest chair.

“Bugger.”


26 November 2010
Goals Needed to Break Record: 16

 

“Arthur Pendragon’s outside!”

Merlin’s head snapped up from where he’d been packing his bag to the door of the student lounge. The room was mostly full of his course mates, so they all stopped to look at him before bolting for the door. He went back to packing as he pondered the best means of escape.

The last time Arthur had done this, Merlin had tried sneaking out of a side entrance, only to find that it was equipped with a very loud alarm. Not only had it frightened ten years off his life, but the entire university had shown up to investigate. Arthur had laughed about it for a good twenty minutes, and had only recently stopped talking about it.

No, the best way to go about it was right out the front door. He could try to blend in with the inevitable swarm of people trying to get Arthur’s attention, and then slip away unnoticed. He yanked his beanie down over his ears a bit harder than necessary.

“Stupid, attention-grubbing prats who love to humiliate their mates,” he grumbled as he hoisted his pack onto his shoulder. “Should’ve just worked at hospital this year, like a normal person.”

He couldn't complain, though, not really. Since he’d started “therapy” on Arthur’s knee, things between them had improved significantly. Arthur was feeling better every day and had decided that this made Merlin worthy of his friendship. He’d started following Merlin around after practices and matches, nattering on about this and that.

At first, Merlin had been confused, wondering at the sudden turnaround. He’d mentioned as much to Morgana when she’d joked about their budding friendship.

“It was inevitable, really,” had been her reply, watching as Arthur led the other players through drills.

“How d’you mean?” he’d asked, glancing at her warily. He liked Morgana, he really did, but the way her mind worked frightened him at times.

“He cares entirely too much what other people think of him,” she’d continued. “He’s gotten away with acting like a complete arse his entire life because no one’s ever called him on it. You did, and in grand fashion.”

“So?”

“So he’s never had someone openly dislike him before.”

“I find that hard to believe. Half the league hates him. And look at all his relationships; they can’t all have ended well.”

“Don’t believe everything that you read,” she’d said sharply, throwing him a quick glance. “And none of those people matter – they’re expected to dislike him. You’re supposed to be on his side.”

Merlin frowned. “So you’re saying that I’m some sort of challenge he’s decided to try and conquer?”

“I’m saying,” Morgana said slowly, like she thought he was an idiot, “that he sees that everyone likes you, and that you like them, and perhaps he’s realized that it was his attitude that was the problem, not you.”

Merlin hadn’t been entirely convinced, but he’d slowly started seeing Morgana’s point. There were subtle differences in Arthur when he was alone with them in the clubhouse as opposed to when he was out in front of the media. His cocky, confident swagger disappeared nearly as soon as the cameras did, or if it didn’t it was because he knew how much it irritated Merlin.

And he really, really loved to irritate Merlin.

Thus Merlin’s current predicament – Arthur had found out how much Merlin hated being the centre of attention. Rather than leave it, he’d taken it upon himself to try and bring Merlin “out of his shell.” Which was a lovely thought, except to Arthur that meant embarrassing Merlin in public as often as possible.

He peeked out into the hallway. Thankfully, there was a fairly steady stream headed for the front door. He shuffled out into the mix, trying to blend in with people who were near his height so he wouldn’t stick out too much.

When he got outside, the biting wind nearly took his breath away. It was freezing, but there Arthur was, standing on the sidewalk next to his Aston Martin. His cheeks and nose were red from the cold, but he chatted and signed autographs and posed for pictures, smiling widely for the camera. This wasn’t a fake persona he put on, Merlin knew. He truly loved interacting with his fans.

He hadn’t realized he’d stopped to stare until someone bumped him from behind, trying to get around him and down the steps. He shook himself and headed down the steps as well, but in the other direction.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Arthur. He just didn’t want to be seen at uni getting into Arthur’s car. He already attracted far too much attention due to his unique position. Once he was around the corner, or somewhere less crowded, he’d call Arthur to come get him.

The only problem was that Arthur had developed some sort of Merlin-radar that allowed him to sense Merlin’s presence when they were anywhere near each other. As a result, Merlin wasn’t halfway down the street before he heard a loud, “Oi!” behind him. He sped up, hoping it’d take Arthur a while to get away from his adoring masses.

Unfortunately, it was less than a minute before he heard Arthur’s stupid, flashy car starting up, and he knew that he was fucked.

“Merlin!” Arthur called, pulling up next to him and shouting out the passenger side window. “Get in out of the cold, you bloody idiot!”

Merlin shot him a brief glare before continuing on down the street hoping Arthur would get the hint. Obviously, he was giving the prat too much credit.

“Merlin!” he yelled again, this time leaning on his horn and making Merlin jump nearly of out his skin. “Merlin Emrys! You, with the ridiculous blue beanie on—“

“All right, all right,” Merlin shouted. People were stopping and openly staring, and he lunged for the door. He pulled his beanie down over his face and slid down in his seat until his knees jammed up against the dashboard.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Arthur said, sounding annoyingly chipper. “Safety first, Merlin. Put your seatbelt on. Come on, then, budge up.”

Horrifyingly, he felt Arthur lean close, reaching across him for the passenger side seatbelt. He sat up quickly, shoving the wool off his face.

“Oh my God,” Merlin said, batting him away. “Get off me, you oaf.”

People were starting to surround the car, taking pictures with their phones. Arthur seemed unconcerned, sitting sideways in his seat, watching Merlin with a solemn expression as Merlin did up his own restraint.

“Now, is that any way to talk to a friend? I’m just concerned for your safety, Merlin.”

He looked so earnest that Merlin found himself laughing, his irritation completely melting away. Arthur rewarded him with a grin.

“Now that you’ve kidnapped me, where are we going?”

Arthur shrugged. “I’m hungry. And I didn’t kidnap you—you got in the car willingly. There are witnesses.”

As if to prove the point, he honked and waved at the people surrounding the car as he pulled slowly away from the curb. Once they were free of the mess, Merlin let out a sigh, relaxing back into the heated seat he was growing entirely too fond of.

He glanced over at Arthur, who’d started talking about something that’d happened to him that morning. A worryingly familiar warmth crept into Merlin’s chest, one he’d been feeling often in Arthur’s presence.

Perhaps it wasn’t the heated seats he was growing fond of after all.


22 January 2011
Ealdor City vs. Camelot United
Goals Needed to Break Record: 11

 

As time went on, Gaius started giving Merlin more and more responsibility. The heavier workload combined with his teaching hours at uni left him with precious little free time. The spare time he did have he split between Elena, who was also busy and thankfully very understanding of him being a shite friend, and Arthur and his knights, as Merlin had taken to calling them affectionately.

As much as Merlin enjoyed being friends with Arthur, there were a few problems as well. In the beginning, Merlin had avoided going to really public places with Arthur, not wanting to get swept up in the frenzy that inevitably popped up wherever he went. But as Arthur and Gwaine and the others kept pushing for him to go eat with them, or to come out and drink with them, more and more Merlin found himself giving in.

Because Arthur was closer than ever to breaking the record, the media coverage was at an all-time high. The paparazzi started followed him wherever he went, and it felt like reporters were always shoving microphones into his face trying to get him to talk about his progress.

Arthur was a good sport about it—talking about himself was one of his favorite pastimes. Merlin wasn’t so thrilled. Pictures of him with Arthur and some of the others after pub nights had made the tabs twice in as many weeks.

(“Merlin!” Elena had yelled over the phone the first time. “You’re in The Camelot Sun!”

“Wha-?” Merlin had mumbled, because it was ungodly o’clock on a Sunday and she had woken him up.

“There’s a picture of you and Arthur--oh, and there’s Gwaine!--coming out of a pub last night!”

Merlin vaguely remembered flashes going off in their faces, but Gwaine had goaded him into seeing who could do the most shots. Merlin was part Irish, dammit, and he would not be drunk under the table by some poncey member of the peerage, so the details were a bit hazy.

“This is so exciting,” Elena continued, oblivious to the fact that Merlin was half-asleep and drooling into his pillow. “You know what this means, don’t you? You’re in an entourage!”

“Great, call you later,” Merlin said before hanging up on her and falling back to sleep).

Apart from Elena and his mum, though, Merlin making the tabs didn’t seem to matter much to anyone else. There was a bit of extra attention at uni from people he was sure would never talk to him otherwise, but generally, the administration seemed happy with him.

The other problem was Arthur himself. Even when they’d been on poor terms, Merlin had always suspected that there was more to Arthur, some part of him that was good hidden underneath all the bristle. He’d been right—the more Merlin got to know him, the more he realized that Arthur was kind, and generous, and quite a bit lovely.

Merlin was growing quite smitten with him.

There’d been another shift in their relationship. They still bickered, and Arthur still annoyed him at every possible opportunity, but it was different somehow. The change was subtle—touches that lingered a bit too long, or catching Arthur watching him when he was working with someone else.

It was all a bit maddening, because Merlin wasn’t sure if it was actually happening or if he was just projecting his feelings onto all their interactions.

It didn’t help that Morgana, Gwaine, and the others had taken to teasing him about it, saying that obviously it was destiny for Merlin and Arthur to have found each other. Merlin even suspected that Percival had some sort of pool going—he’d stumbled upon him and some of the others several times discussing something heatedly, only to have them clam up as soon as Merlin appeared, usually with Arthur.

For the most part, though, everything was going well, and Merlin was looking forward to putting it all out of his head for the day. It was a wet, rainy Saturday, and Merlin was at the stadium early. He was excited because the match that afternoon was against Ealdor City, which meant that he’d be seeing Will.

Will had been the first person aside from Gaius and his mother to find out about Merlin’s magic. Once Will had signed with Ealdor City and Merlin had gone off to Camelot for school, they’d barely seen each other, but they were always in touch.

But Will was staying in Camelot that night, so he was looking forward to catching up. And drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.

He was walking toward the training room, whistling to himself, when a football pinged off the back of his head. Lately, Arthur had developed a strange penchant for lobbing things at Merlin when he wasn’t looking, so he immediately assumed he was the culprit.

“Bloody OW!” he yelled, rubbing at the back of his head as he turned around. “Arthur, you can’t just--”

He stopped, gaping at Will, who was standing there grinning.

“Arthur?” he asked. “Mate, it’s been way too long since we’ve seen each other if you’re confusing me with that git.”

Merlin tried to hold his glare, but it was impossible as Will came over and enveloped him in a bear hug.

“It’s good to see you too, Will,” Merlin said dryly, hugging back just as fiercely. Will ruffled his hair as he released him.

“So how is it going?” Will asked. “You don’t go into much detail in your emails.”

“It’s really great,” Merlin said honestly. “I like it a lot.”

“Yeah? I hear you’re skivvying for The Prince now.”

“I’m not a skivvy,” Merlin said, giving him a shove. “I do serious work here. I’m actually very important.”

Will rolled his eyes, grinning. “Hey, you know who’s coming to the match today with my mum? Old Man Simmons.”

“Oh God,” Merlin said, looking around in mock terror. “Keep him away from me.”

Will laughed. Fuck, it was good to see him. “Yeah, he’s always hated you. Since you broke his back window when we were kids. You always were shite at football.”

“What? Me? If your big fat head hadn’t gotten in the way, the football never would’ve gone anywhere near his window!”

“You gotta admit, though--it was a great header.”

“Arse,” Merlin said, giving him another push, which resulted in Will pushing him back, which then resulted in a full out tussle, wherein Merlin found himself in a headlock, trying to catch his breath while laughing his arse off.

They both looked up, Merlin a little awkwardly given his current position, when they heard someone clear their throat. Arthur was standing there, eyeing them.

“Merlin,” he finally said, “what on earth are you doing?”

“Just catching up,” Merlin replied, shoving Will away and straightening up. He lifted a hand to his hair, trying to flatten it down.

“Catching up,” Arthur repeated, looking back and forth between them.

“Yeah, Will’s an old friend. I assume you know each other.”

Arthur smirked. “Vaguely. If I were you, I’d be focusing on the match, Turner.”

Merlin rolled his eyes at Arthur’s posturing, but Will smirked right back. “Couldn’t help myself,” he said, throwing an arm around Merlin’s shoulders. “Merlin and I have a lot to catch up on.”

Arthur’s eyes narrowed a bit at that. “I was just looking for you, Merlin. I need you to come with me.”

Merlin frowned. “What for? I was just--”

“It’s all right, mate,” Will said, lifting his arm and clapping his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “We’ve got all night to catch up, yeah?” He threw another look at Arthur when he said the last bit.

“Now, Merlin,” Arthur said, shooting a glare at Will before heading down the hallway to the training room.

“Prat,” Merlin muttered, glaring after him. He might’ve come a long way, but sometimes Merlin still wanted to throttle him. Will chuckled.

“Go on,” he said. “Better go see what His Highness wants. I’ll see you tonight.”

He gave Merlin’s hair another affectionate ruffle and then went in the other direction toward the visiting locker room. Merlin sighed, and went off to find out what the hell Arthur wanted.


“So. You and Pendragon.”

Merlin glanced up at Will briefly before going back to peeling the label off his bottle of cider. The match had ended in a tie, which suited Merlin just fine, especially since Arthur had scored Camelot’s lone goal. They were now at Merlin’s favorite pub, waiting for Elena to join them.

“What?”

“You and Pendragon,” Will repeated. “How long have you been…you know.”

Merlin looked up again to see Will making a gesture with his hands that probably represented some strange sex act Merlin had never heard of, because Will was a filthy pervert. He felt his cheeks heat.

“I don't even know what that’s supposed to mean,” he said, “but I can assure you, Arthur and I aren’t doing it.”

Will cocked his head. “Why not? I know he’s your type. And he obviously wants it.”

Merlin choked on the mouthful he’d just taken. “What?” he managed, before clearing his throat. “He does not. We’re just mates.”

“Yeah, okay,” Will said, rolling his eyes, “even you aren’t that oblivious, mate.” When Merlin continued to stare at him, he put his pint down slowly, eyes widening. “Oh fuck, you are, aren’t you? You have no idea.”

“There are no ideas to be had,” Merlin said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You’re mad. He obviously wants to shag you. Shag you rotten, even.”

“You think everyone wants to shag everyone.”

“They do,” Will said. “They just won’t admit it.”

“Admit what?”

They both looked up at Elena. “Sorry I’m late, chaps,” she said, “the taxi took forever.”

Will leaned over and gave her a big, wet kiss, laughing when she squealed and wiped at her cheek with her sleeve. “It’s good to see you, love.”

“You, too. Now, who won’t admit what?”

“Merlin won’t admit that Arthur wants to shag him.”

“Because he doesn’t!” Merlin exclaimed. “Come on, you know better than to listen to him,” he said to Elena, whose eyes had gone nearly completely round.

“No!” she said, pointing at him. “I said it, didn’t I? I’ve been saying all along that you two were destined for a Big Gay Romance!”

“Well, yes, but you’re a bit mental, so….”

She glared at him and then turned to Will. “What happened? What did you see?”

“Oh, it was great,” Will said, settling into storytelling mode. Merlin groaned and buried his face in his hands. “We were just messing about at the stadium, yeah? And Arthur just comes stomping over to drag Merlin away from me, like I was getting too handsy with his property.”

“It wasn’t like that at all!” Merlin protested. “It wasn’t like that,” he repeated to Elena, who’d started flapping her hands about in excitement. “He just needed my help.”

“Lies,” Will said. “He was marking his territory.”

“Oh, for—he was not.”

“I am telling you, if we were dogs—“

“Please don’t even finish that sentence.”

“Whatever, you know what I mean.”

It continued that way for a while longer before they finally took pity on him and changed the subject. After a few more bottles of cider, he was feeling pleasantly buzzed and sat back to watch his friends argue over every topic under the sun. He’d learned a while ago that Will and Elena were incapable of agreeing on anything, and it was always very entertaining when they got together. He smiled to himself, content to be out drinking with his two best friends.

His mobile buzzed in his pocket a short while later. He pulled it out and flipped it open, finding a message from Gwaine.

OMG whr the fuck R U??

He grinned—for someone so high born, Gwaine had an appalling love of text speak.

Dragon’s Den. Why?

K, thx.

He assumed that meant that Gwaine, and probably Arthur, would be joining them. He looked at Elena, still gesturing wildly in an attempt to get her point across. He briefly considered telling her that Gwaine was coming, but then decided against it. It served her right for siding with Will about Arthur.

He knew it the moment the players arrived in the pub. There was a commotion from the direction of the door, which drew Elena’s attention. The colour drained from her face, and looking a bit frantic, she turned to Merlin.

“Arthur’s here,” she hissed. “With Gwaine!”

“Oh?” he replied, unconcerned. “Fancy that.”

“Why, you little—“

She paused, seeming to think twice about cursing him out before deciding to flee instead. She tried scooting out of the booth, but Will grabbed her arm.

“Oh, no you don’t. Time to face the music. Maybe you can both get laid tonight!”

“Let me go, you oaf!”

She rounded on Will and walloped him on the top of the head just as Gwaine arrived.

“Still charming the ladies, I see,” Gwaine said, his eyebrow arched. Elena froze, and Will just rubbed his head, smiling openly.

“She’s been beating me up since we were kids,” he announced. By now, Elena was blushing bright red, so Merlin decided to cut in.

“Gwaine, this is Elena. Elena, Gwaine.”

“A pleasure,” Gwaine said, taking the hand that Elena offered shyly. He bent down and kissed her knuckles, smiling at her. Merlin only had a brief moment to enjoy her discomfort before someone ploughed into him from the side.

“Ow,” he said lamely, knowing that Arthur would just laugh if he made a fuss.

“Come on, budge over,” Arthur said. “Morgana and Leon are here as well.”

“There you are, Merlin,” Morgana said, right on cue.

“Been here all night,” Merlin replied, lifting his bottle off the table and saluting her and Leon.

“Arthur’s been dragging us all up and down the high street looking for you,” she said, sliding in next to her stepbrother while Leon pulled over an extra chair.

“I have not,” Arthur protested immediately. “I just couldn’t find a place I liked.”

“Because Merlin wasn't there,” she countered, unwrapping her shawl. Merlin noted with more than a little amusement that Arthur was squirming uncomfortably next to him.

“Well, thankfully Gwaine had the sense to ask,” he said, nudging Arthur, who nudged him back and set off a small shoving match.

“Oh, there they go,” Morgana said, sounding long-suffering. “Really, you two, go shag already. All this foreplay is getting tiresome.”

“Aha!” Will and Elena shouted simultaneously while Merlin and Arthur spluttered in protest. Merlin pointed at Elena in warning.

“Nothing out of you, or I’ll tell Gwaine about—“

Arthur let out a yelp next to him. “Bloody hell,” he said, leaning forward. “She kicked me!”

“I’m sorry!” Elena wailed, looking mortified. “I was aiming for Merlin!”

Gwaine threw his head back and laughed out loud. Merlin chuckled as well.

“Careful,” Leon said, “this is our golden boy. Only eleven more to go after today, yeah?”

“Something like that,” Arthur muttered, suddenly interested in his pint. Merlin rolled his eyes.

“Oh, stop pretending to be modest. It doesn’t suit at all.”

“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur said, reaching up and flicking Merlin’s ear.

“Wanker,” he replied, rubbing at his ear.

Elena appeared to have recovered from her embarrassment, because she eyed them for a moment, assessing, before turning to Will and saying, “I see what you mean.”

“I told you,” Will said, smug.

Gwaine looked between the three of them. “Do tell.”

“No,” Merlin said. “Don’t you dare.”

She let out a dramatic sigh. “Fine. I’ll just tell embarrassing stories about Merlin from our childhood then, shall I?”

The answer was a resounding “Yes!” from everyone at the table.

“Oh, for—“ Merlin muttered. He slumped back in his seat, resigning himself to a long, humiliating night.


“…and Merlin couldn’t find his pants for hours. They wound up in a tree—he had to go back later and fetch them.”

Everyone laughed uproariously, even Merlin. He’d had more to drink and therefore had left embarrassment behind a while ago. They’d all been exchanging stories; Merlin liked Morgana’s best, as they were about Arthur and Leon’s misadventures as teenagers.

Arthur had gone mostly quiet next to him, aside from the occasional chuckle. He’d also had quite a bit to drink since they arrived, and was slumping into Merlin’s space, their shoulders pressed together. Merlin, in his drunken haze, found that he didn't mind a bit.

“All right, you lot,” Morgana eventually said, “we should all turn in. We’ve a coach ride to North Umbria tomorrow evening, and I suspect you’re going to want as much time as possible to sleep this off.”

There was a collective groan, but everyone made to get up.

“We’ll go out the back,” Morgana said, going into her bossy PR persona. “I’m going to hire some cars and then get rid of any photographers. Don’t move until I say it’s clear.”

Merlin tried to salute her, but just wound up poking himself in the cheekbone.

“Ridiculous,” she muttered before striding away. The rest of them stumbled out of the booth, bumping into each other as they tried to get their legs back. Merlin rested his head on Elena’s shoulder.

“Want to go back to mine?” she asked, patting his hair absently. “It’s closer.”

“Actually, Merlin,” Gwaine cut in, “I think you’d better see about getting the prince home.”

Merlin turned to look at Arthur, who’d sat back down and rested his head on his arms.

“Why me?” Merlin said.

“It’s your turn, mate,” Gwaine replied. “I took care of him in Mercia and he puked all over my shoes.”

Merlin turned to Leon. “What about you and Morgana?”

“Sorry. Morgana and I are going home to shag our brains out,” Leon said, clapping Merlin on the shoulder.

“Ew,” Merlin replied, wrinkling his nose. “Too much information.”

Leon laughed. Merlin turned back to Elena. “What about you? I cannot abandon you in your drunken state.”

She waved a hand at him. “Go on, then. Like you’d be any help. I’ll be all right.”

“I’ll see her home,” Gwaine said, smiling. Merlin narrowed his eyes. After Elena had gotten over her initial shock, they’d been sniffing around each other all night.

“All right, but no hanky panky,” Merlin said, wagging a finger at his friend.

Elena squeaked and turned bright pink, but Gwaine just nodded and said, “Yes, sir.”

Merlin’s mobile buzzed then with the all clear from Morgana. He turned to Arthur.

“Come on, Pendragon, get up,” Merlin said, shoving at his shoulder. Arthur just mumbled and batted his hand away. Merlin plopped down next to him.

“Arthur, let’s go. Morgana has a car for us. I’m going to take you home.”

“’Kay.”

Arthur slid out after Merlin. They leaned heavily on each other as they made their way through the pub. No one bothered them, probably having been threatened with imminent death by Morgana.

By the time they got outside, Merlin was practically dragging Arthur after him. Morgana was getting everyone else settled, and then she turned to them. Her face brightened.

“The two of you, then? Brilliant!” She ushered them into the last taxi. She leaned her head into the window once they were settled. “Take care of him, Merlin.”

As soon as they pulled away from the curb, Arthur yawned and slid down onto his side, laying his head on Merlin’s thigh. He looked down as Arthur rubbed his cheek against his jeans, and a wave of affection overcame him. He rested a hand on Arthur’s shoulder and leaned back in his seat, watching the city streak by as they sped toward Arthur’s flat.


By the time they got to his door, Arthur had woken up some, but had given up entirely on supporting his own weight. His arm was draped around Merlin’s waist and he was laughing, his face buried against Merlin’s neck. Merlin clenched his jaw, trying to get the key in the lock.

“You could bloody help, you know,” he groused, shrugging Arthur away.

“Nah, you’re doing jes’ fine,” Arthur said, straightening up, his hand sliding from Merlin’s shoulder to the small of his back and resting there.

“Ha!” Merlin cried triumphantly as he felt the lock go. The door swung open and they stumbled into the dark flat. They landed against a nearby wall, Arthur knocking the breath out of Merlin.

“Oof,” he gasped, shoving at Arthur. “Get off, you prat.”

The door shut with a quiet click, plunging them into near total darkness. Arthur murmured a reply, shifting against him. He dropped his head, resting his forehead on Merlin’s shoulder.

“Let’s get you into bed,” Merlin said, trying to sound chipper even though it felt like someone had just unleashed a swarm of butterflies inside his ribcage. He was used to Arthur being handsy, but they’d never been close like this. Arthur’s bulk pinning him to the wall felt far too good for his sanity.

“Mmm, Merlin,” Arthur purred, rubbing his cheek against Merlin’s neck. The rasp of stubble made him shudder, and he felt entirely sober all of a sudden.

“Arthur—“

He stopped when Arthur nosed along his jaw. It was entirely too quiet in the flat, and all Merlin could hear was his own breathing, loud and a bit too rapid. Arthur lifted his head, and Merlin was still struggling to make out his expression in the dark when Arthur leaned forward and brushed his lips against Merlin’s.

He sucked in a breath, and Arthur paused for a moment before doing it again, this time licking at the corner of Merlin’s mouth.

Merlin went immediately hard, months of wanting Arthur combining with the alcohol to make him unbearably horny. He opened his mouth to say something, to tell Arthur that this was a bad idea, but Arthur just took the opportunity to sweep his tongue between Merlin’s lips.

Unsurprisingly, Arthur was an amazing kisser, even drunk off his arse. Merlin quickly found himself unable to do anything but cling to Arthur’s shoulders, trying not to rut against him while Arthur bit and licked at his lips. He tasted like the gin he’d been drinking all night, a fact that dimly registered somewhere in Merlin’s consciousness.

“Arthur,” he gasped, managing to pull his mouth away. Undeterred, Arthur dipped his head, sucking wet kisses down Merlin’s neck.

“Arthur,” he tried again, his cock twitching when Arthur found a particularly sensitive spot and latched on. “Oh fuck, we can’t do this.” He mustered the willpower to grab Arthur by his shoulders and push him away. “Not like this.”

His eyes had adjusted to the darkness well enough that he could see the considering look on Arthur’s face.

“You’re right,” he said eventually, his voice husky. But rather than release Merlin, Arthur reached down and grabbed his hand. Before his lust-addled brain could process what was happening, Arthur dragged him down the hall to his bedroom. He navigated the way with an ease that Merlin would’ve found suspicious had his brain not checked out as soon as Arthur kissed him.

He soon found himself on his back on Arthur’s bed. Before he could think to move, Arthur was on top of him, and then all thoughts of escape fled completely. He sank into the ridiculously plush mattress, Arthur’s weight holding him down. He had the thought that he should probably tell Arthur that this wasn’t what he meant, but then Arthur kissed him again and he just gave in.

He got his hands up under Arthur’s shirt, digging his fingers into the muscle of Arthur’s back. His skin was very warm, a bit damp, as he pressed his hips down against Merlin’s.

“Fuck, yes,” Merlin gasped when their erections rubbed together. He lifted his knees, locking his ankles around the backs of Arthur’s thighs and encouraging him to thrust again.

Arthur moaned against his ear as he rolled his hips, harder this time, and the sound of it nearly had Merlin going off in his pants, too turned on to worry about any kind of stamina. But then Arthur lifted himself, his hand scrabbling between them, pulling at the buckle on Merlin’s belt.

“Merlin…fuck…I need—“

“Yeah, okay—yeah,” Merlin said, and between them they managed to get both their jeans undone, pushing everything down just enough to free their erections. Merlin didn’t look—he couldn’t, not without coming and ending it all too soon. Arthur’s hips started moving again, the hot, hard length of him rubbing against Merlin’s stomach, next to his cock.

“Arthur, I can’t,” Merlin whined, tossing his head from side to side, biting his lip hard to keep from coming.

“No, don’t—come on, Merlin,” Arthur said, reaching down and wrapping a hand around both of them.

All it took was two strokes and Merlin was coming hard, crying out and arching up off the bed. Arthur followed almost immediately, panting loudly against Merlin’s neck as his come landed on Merlin’s stomach and chest, mixing with Merlin’s own.

Arthur kept stroking until they were both completely spent, and then he collapsed onto his side, tucked in close to Merlin. His hand rested low on Merlin’s belly, covered in their come. He seemed to realize this belatedly, because a few minutes later he lifted his hand to examine it.

“Ick,” he concluded, sitting up and pulling at his shirt, trying to get it over his head. Merlin watched sleepily as he used it to wipe them both clean before settling back down at Merlin’s side. The last thing Merlin felt before falling asleep was Arthur’s arm draping warmly over his stomach.


23 January 2011

 

Merlin felt like shit. His head was pounding, he ached everywhere, and no matter how much water he drank, he couldn’t stop the inside of his mouth from feeling like it was lined with cotton. He could’ve used his magic to make himself feel better—it wouldn’t be the first time he’d used it to cure a hangover—but he didn’t want to. Suffering through it was his penance for being such a complete, utter idiot.

Not only had he gotten pissed and slept with Arthur, he’d also sneaked out of Arthur’s flat in the wee hours of the morning like a bloody coward.

Fuck. Why was he so stupid? The least he could’ve done was stay and wait for Arthur to wake up so they could figure this mess out. But he’d panicked, and he’d always been rather a flight-not-fight sort of person.

If he was being honest, he hadn’t been completely out of it the night before. Oh, he’d been pissed, but he could’ve stopped Arthur, could’ve been more adamant about it. Arthur had been far more pissed than he was, it wouldn’t have been too hard to put him off.

But he hadn’t wanted to. He’d wanted Arthur so much, and his body had seized on the easy excuse to have him. Fuck, he’d practically taken advantage of him.

He had no idea what he was going to say once he saw Arthur again. He’d gotten to the stadium early to pack his supplies for the road match tomorrow, and he’d been hiding in the training room ever since.

“You look like shit.”

Merlin flinched at Gwaine’s loud voice. “Keep it down, would you?” he asked, sinking onto a chair and cradling his head gingerly. Fuck, he felt awful. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be this hung over. Gwaine chuckled.

“That bad?”

“You have no idea,” he said, peering up at Gwaine. “Why aren’t you hung over? You drank more than I did.”

Gwaine, for the first time since Merlin had met him, looked uncomfortable.

“Ah. Well, you see—the thing is—I had a bit of time to sober up before calling it a night.”

Merlin blinked at him, uncomprehending, until it dawned on him. Elena. He squawked out loud, pointing an accusing finger at his friend.

“You said no hanky panky! You promised!”

Gwaine put his hands up, placating. “No, no, there wasn’t any hanky panky. I swear. Even though, technically, I never promised.”

“Gwaine,” Merlin growled.

“We just talked, all right? We were both feeling a bit peckish, so we went to get some food, and before I knew it, it was getting to be light out and she had to get some sleep before work.”

Merlin eyed him carefully. He looked unusually earnest, and Elena really was capable of handling herself if he’d tried anything untoward. He finally sat back with a sigh.

“Sorry, sorry. I’ve just known her forever and I get a bit overprotective.”

Gwaine smiled. “She is something, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” Merlin said, “and if you hurt her, I will kill you.”

Gwaine just eyed his slender build critically.

“Well, not me personally, obviously. But I am not above hiring someone to do it for me. Percival, maybe. He’s always looking for an excuse to hit things.”

“Duly noted,” Gwaine said, his lips quirking as he looked around. “Where’s Arthur?”

Merlin’s stomach plummeted down into his chucks. “No clue,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I made sure he got settled all right and then went home.”

“Really? That’s all?” Gwaine asked, sounding expectant.

“Yes, that’s all. Now,” Merlin said, trying to change the subject, “make yourself useful and take this out to the bus.”

Gwaine rolled his eyes, but he bent down and grabbed the supply bag. “You’re spending way too much time with Arthur. You used to be so sweet.”

“Off you go,” Merlin said, ignoring the two-fingered salute he got in reply. “I’ll be out soon, just need to lock up.”

“I’ll save you a seat,” Gwaine called back over his shoulder as he left. Merlin let out a sigh, sagging back against the wall. Enough of this shit, he thought—he’d never survive a three-hour bus ride in his current state.

He let his magic slowly wash over him, healing his aching muscles and soothing his headache. When he felt more human, he stood up and turned back to the supply cabinet. After it was all closed up, he gave a tug on the padlock to make sure it’d taken.

Behind him, he heard the door click shut and then lock. He froze, dread creeping down his spine and making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He turned slowly to see Arthur leaning against the door, his hands hidden behind his back.

Oh fuck, he thought. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Hi,” he said, eyeing Arthur warily when he didn’t respond right away. He’d gotten quite good at reading Arthur’s moods, but his face was completely neutral. Merlin instinctively moved back toward the wall, putting two massage tables between them. He wasn’t much of a match for Arthur, but he figured if Arthur had to climb over obstacles to get to him, he had a better shot at escaping.

“You left,” Arthur finally said. “I woke up, and you were gone.”

Stupid, stupid Arthur. Did he always have to be so direct? Couldn’t he just pussyfoot around and be passive aggressive like a normal person?

“Yes,” Merlin eventually replied, “but I—“

“I was angry at first,” Arthur continued, ignoring the attempt at an explanation. Which was good, considering Merlin didn’t really have one. “But then it occurred to me that you might have misunderstood what happened. You are a bit thick, after all.”

Merlin wasn’t sure which part of the statement to respond to, so he went with an utterly brilliant, “What?”

“So, I figure it’s best that we get any misconceptions out of the way as soon as possible,” Arthur said in that posh tone he put on when he wanted to appear completely confident.

He pushed away from the door and headed toward Merlin, whose legs had completely seceded from his brain and refused to move even an inch. Arthur stopped in front of him and studied him for a long moment. When all Merlin did was to stare back at him, Arthur rolled his eyes.

“You really are such an idiot. I don’t know why I put up with you,” he said, and then he grabbed Merlin’s face and kissed him.

Too surprised to kiss back at first, Merlin just stood while Arthur’s mouth pressed against his. Eventually he relaxed into it, nearly boneless with relief. Not only was Arthur not angry, but he appeared to actually want this, even sober.

They kissed enthusiastically, wrapped around each other, until there was a banging at the door.

“Oi!” Gwaine yelled from the other side, “we’re ready to go, hurry up!” He paused, and then, “And tell Pendragon that if he doesn’t release you, I’m going to make him sit next to Morgana!”

“Coming!” Merlin said quickly, his voice a bit too high for his liking. Arthur gave a filthy chuckle.

“Not yet, you aren’t,” he said with a grin, “but there’s always later this evening at the hotel.”

Merlin pretended to think about it, near giddy at the possibility.

“Yeah, all right, then. I can deal with that.”


9 March 2011
Goals Needed to Break Record: 8

 

Being with Arthur was nothing like Merlin expected.

He’d thought…well, he hadn’t thought about it, really, because it wasn’t something he’d ever have expected would happen. But had someone asked him what he thought it would be like to be in a relationship-type thing with Arthur Pendragon, he certainly wouldn’t have imagined this.

They had a lot of sex. On the rare occasions that Arthur had days off with nothing to do, Merlin holed up with him in his gigantic flat, not leaving the bed for anything other than food and bathing.

When Arthur wanted to hide, he stayed at Merlin’s. He complained constantly that it was too small, and that the neighbourhood was terrifying, but that never seemed to stop him from sneaking in and falling asleep in Merlin’s bed when Merlin was otherwise occupied.

Elena teased him constantly about having found his Prince Charming, and then he’d tease her back about her budding romance with Gwaine, and everything promptly went to hell from there.

It had gotten to the point where Merlin was considering telling Arthur about his magic. He’d almost done once or twice, but had chickened out at the last minute. He didn’t want anything to ruin this yet, whatever it was.

Simply put, he was happier than he’d been in a long time—possibly ever. It was easy to get caught up in Arthur to the exclusion of everything else. After all, they’d spent a lot of their waking hours together before, but now that they were sleeping together…well, they were sleeping together. On days when Merlin was at the stadium, there was hardly a moment when Arthur was out of his sight. And he liked it.

Except now he found himself just eight weeks out from his exams, and he was seriously behind on his revision. So behind that he took to having panicked fits whenever he thought he could get away with it, usually when Arthur wasn’t around. He didn’t want Arthur to know, because then Arthur might do something drastic, like withhold sex in an effort to motivate Merlin.

But Arthur was going out with Gwaine tonight, and Merlin was free to pace around his flat with his notes, which made him feel marginally better. Arthur had invited him, of course, but Merlin had wanted a night in, determined to at least start catching up.

The thing about Arthur, though, was that since they’d started sleeping together, he found the word “no” completely incomprehensible.

Which was why, when Merlin flung the door open at half nine, Arthur and Gwaine were both standing there, dressed for a night out. Merlin took a moment to admire the sight before slumping against the doorframe.

“I said no,” he said, weary. Pacing was absolutely exhausting work.

“What on earth happened to you?” Arthur asked, pushing Merlin aside and walking into the flat. He turned and eyed Merlin critically, reaching up to flatten his hair. Merlin leaned into the petting.

“I told you, I have to catch up on revising.”

“Can’t you do that tomorrow?” Arthur asked, dangerously close to pouting.

“No, I cannot do it tomorrow,” Merlin said, stomping into his living room. “It’s all your fault that I’m behind anyway.”

Gwaine let out a whistle as he took in the disaster that was Merlin’s sitting room. Papers littered practically every surface, including the floor.

“Your system is very, uh, unique,” he said, stepping gingerly between sheets of paper. “How’s it working for you?”

“What would you know? You have no idea how difficult this is!” Merlin said, shaking a stack of notes at him. He was feeling a bit hysterical—he needed to get them out of there. The desire to ignore all of this for yet another night was growing.

Gwaine put his hands up in surrender.

“All right, crazy eyes, calm down,” he said, obviously trying not to laugh. Merlin just scowled at him. Behind him, Arthur sighed.

“Merlin,” he said, placing his hands on Merlin’s shoulders and steering him toward the sofa, “you need to relax or you won’t get anything done.”

“Sorry,” Merlin grumbled as Arthur pushed him onto the sofa. “I just didn’t realize how behind I am. I’m panicking a bit.”

“You don’t say,” Gwaine said. He missed Merlin’s two-fingered salute as he’d dropped to the floor and started shuffling through the papers around him.

“All right, change of plans,” Arthur said briskly, clapping his hands. “We are going to help you get all of this organized, and then you are going to figure out a game plan.”

Merlin blinked up at him. “What? What happened to going out?”

“I think we can survive one night in, don’t you, Gwaine?” Arthur asked pointedly.

“Sure,” Gwaine answered, making a face. Merlin felt a slight pang of guilt.

“You really don’t—“

“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur said, jabbing at his phone. “There. Percy’s on his way as well.”

Merlin gave Arthur a watery smile before looking at Gwaine.

“You could call Elena. She should be home by now.”

Gwaine brightened considerably at that, pulling out his phone. Arthur sat down next to Merlin and started collecting the papers Merlin had strewn across his large coffee table.

“Thanks,” Merlin said quietly, nudging him with his shoulder.

“Funny as it would be, can’t have you going off the deep end,” Arthur said, affecting the business-like tone he used when he didn't want to acknowledge that he’d done something nice because he cared.

“Of course not. What would you do without me?”

Arthur gave a bit of a splutter at that. “I survived perfectly fine without you for twenty-three years, thank you very much.”

“No, you didn't,” Gwaine cut in. “You’ve only just become tolerable since Merlin came along.”

Arthur’s cheeks pinked a bit, but he was saved from answering by the buzzer.

“Now who the hell could that be?” Merlin certainly wasn’t expecting anyone else, and it was far too soon for either Percival or Elena to arrive.

Arthur stood up. “It’s Percy. He was almost here when I texted.”

Merlin narrowed his eyes, following Arthur to the door. “You told him to meet you here, didn’t you? To help you drag me out for the night.”

Arthur grinned, leaning in and giving Merlin a quick peck on the lips. “Would I do that?”

“Yes,” Merlin said, a bit flustered. He and Arthur had spent quite a lot of time kissing recently, but Arthur was surprisingly prone to random displays of affection, and it still knocked Merlin off kilter.

“Merlin!” Percival boomed as soon as the door opened. Merlin shrank back, recognizing the look on his face. He’d grown rather fond of carrying Merlin about, and Merlin spent a large portion of his days at the stadium hiding from the massive keeper.

“No! Don’t!” he yelled, trying to get away. He failed, of course, and wound up tossed over Percy’s broad shoulder. Percy let out a whistle, taking in the mess.

“What on earth?”

“Don’t ask. Can you put me down now, please?” Politeness was usually the way to go with Percy. Struggling did nothing. It was rather insulting, really.

“Oh, right,” Percy said, immediately setting him down. Arthur led him back over to the sofa and sat him down.

“All right. We’re going to get some dinner and get this all sorted out.”

“Okay,” Merlin said, smiling up at him. “I’ll call Ellie and have her bring the food on her way.”

“And then no more panicking?”

“No more panicking. Well, at least until tomorrow.”

“Well,” Arthur said, sighing, “I guess that’ll have to do.”

 

Hours later, his notes sat in a tall, organized stack on the coffee table, ready for him to start his revision. Gwaine and Elena had departed a while earlier, looking for some privacy. Percival was asleep on the floor by the telly, wrapped around one of Merlin’s sofa cushions. Surprisingly, he’d proved most helpful of the bunch, ploughing on when the rest of them were prone to fits of slacking off.

Arthur and Merlin were stretched out on the sofa, Merlin on top, his head resting on Arthur’s chest. Arthur’s fingers were carding through his hair, and the quiet atmosphere was making him rather sleepy.

“Thanks,” he eventually whispered, rubbing his cheek against the soft fabric of Arthur’s shirt.

“Mmm,” Arthur said, sounding half asleep himself. “You should’ve told me how bad it was.”

“It’s my own fault,” Merlin said around a yawn. “I’ll just have to be more careful.”

“No failing out of uni when you’re so close to the end,” Arthur said. “I refuse to support you while you laze about all day.”

“As if,” Merlin said, poking Arthur in the side, ignoring the way his heart sped up at Arthur’s words. Not for the first time, Merlin wondered what this was, and whether it felt as serious to Arthur as it’d started to feel to him.

Arthur squirmed away from the touch and locked his arms tighter around Merlin, turning them so that Merlin was trapped between Arthur and the sofa.

“Go to sleep,” Arthur said, yawning against Merlin’s hair.

“I have a bed, you know,” Merlin said, though he shifted around until he was more comfortably tucked against Arthur.

“Too far,” Arthur replied, and Merlin listened for a few moments as his breath evened out as he dropped off to sleep.

Content, he closed his eyes and followed suit.


19 March 2011
Camelot United vs. Ealdor City
Goals Needed to Break Record: 6

 

“Go, go, go, go!” Merlin yelled as Arthur ran down the pitch, kicking up dirt in his wake. It had been a difficult game, both sides unable to get any real chances around each other’s defenders. They were nearly out of stoppage time, and if Arthur scored now, Camelot would surely win.

Merlin held his breath as Arthur moved toward the goal. He kicked the ball hard, but the keeper anticipated it and was able to bat it away. It went right to Lancelot, who kicked it back toward Arthur, but a bit high. Arthur jumped up out of the sea of players surrounding him and headed the ball neatly into the net.

Merlin jumped up and cheered with the rest of the crowd. They were in Ealdor, yes, but when it came down to it, everyone wanted Arthur to break the record. The goal sealed the win for Camelot, and when Arthur spotted him in the sea of people on the sidelines, Merlin was still grinning like a loon.


“You didn’t have to come, you know,” Merlin said as he rang the doorbell. “I know the lads wanted to go out and celebrate.”

They were crowded together on Merlin’s mum’s doorstep, and Merlin felt Arthur’s shrug.

“Didn’t feel like it. Besides,” he added, “who’s going to make sure that you don’t get yourself into trouble?”

“Arthur, if anyone’s an expert on keeping me out of trouble, it’s my mum.”

“Great!” Arthur said, rubbing his hands together. “I can’t wait to hear all about it!”

Merlin bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to smile. Arthur had surprised him by wanting to tag along. When he’d asked why, Arthur had just shrugged and said he was in the mood for something quiet.

Merlin knew that wasn’t really the reason; sometimes, when Merlin spoke about his mother, Arthur got a bit of a wistful look on his face. Merlin knew he’d grown up without a mother. Everyone knew—Arthur’s life had been front-page news for as long as he could remember. The fact that Arthur wanted to meet his mum was actually rather touching.

Merlin was also pleased because it meant they got to spend time together. He’d been so busy the past few weeks revising and interviewing for positions in the fall that he’d not had much time to see Arthur. They still slept together most nights, but Merlin was often too exhausted for anything more than that. But tonight he didn’t have to worry about any of that; he could just enjoy being with Arthur and spending some time at home.

Or, he could, if Hunith would answer the door. He rang the bell again, holding it down this time. It was bloody cold out.

“Don’t tell me your own mum is standing you up,” Arthur said, sounding far too delighted. “That would be horrifically sad.”

“You could always go back to the hotel, you know,” Merlin replied, shoving Arthur hard enough that he nearly stumbled off the step. He was saved from the retaliation by headlights pulling into the drive behind them.

Hunith got out of the car a moment later, a big smile on her face. Merlin grinned back, hopping down the steps to go meet her.

“I thought you’d forgotten about me,” he said as she pulled him into a hug. He pressed his face against her hair and inhaled the familiar scent of her shampoo. It really had been too long since he’d seen her.

“Rubbish,” she said, pushing him away and looking him over. “I had to run out and get some extra food for dinner.”

Merlin had called ahead to let her know that Arthur was coming along. He’d never come out and told her that they were seeing each other, but he was pretty sure she suspected as much.

“That’s good,” he said, going into the back seat for the grocery bags. “Arthur eats like a horse.”

“I do not,” Arthur immediately protested, even though he most certainly did. “Please don’t listen to him,” he continued. “It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Emrys. I’m sorry if my coming along put you out.”

Merlin rolled his eyes as Arthur turned on the charm. Hunith just smiled.

“It’s quite all right. I probably could’ve done with some extra anyway; Merlin eats like a horse as well.”

Arthur’s face lit up in a delighted grin. Before he could say anything, Merlin shoved some of the bags at him.

“Go on, make yourself useful.”

“Don’t be rude, Merlin,” Hunith chided as she led them up the walkway. “Arthur’s a guest.”

Behind her back, Arthur shot him a triumphant look. Merlin shook his head sadly.

“I can already tell how this night is going to go.”


Contrary to Merlin’s expectations, the night was actually quite lovely. Hunith made Merlin’s favourite, a huge roast complete with Yorkshire pudding, and they both had several helpings. They’d washed up while Hunith got dessert ready, a homemade banoffee pie that Arthur swore was the best he’d ever had.

Arthur had won Hunith over completely, regaling her with football tales and funny stories about things Merlin did. He was too full and content to be bothered by it, though, so he hadn’t objected to that bit.

The bit he did object to, however, was the heated looks Arthur kept shooting him when Hunith wasn't looking. At one point he’d slumped down in his seat, seemingly relaxed after all the food he’d eaten, and his foot had found its way into Merlin’s crotch, rubbing lightly against his cock. Merlin had gone hard embarrassingly quickly, and the bastard had kept his foot there, pressing lightly just often enough to keep Merlin helplessly aroused.

They’d made their way upstairs after Hunith went to sleep and had promptly fallen into Merlin’s childhood bed. Arthur had quietly admitted during one of Hunith’s trips to the loo that he’d been thinking all night about fucking Merlin there, and it had taken nearly all of Merlin’s willpower not to drag him upstairs right then and there.

Merlin was sprawled out on his back with Arthur on top of him, straddling his thighs. He’d already fucked Merlin, pinning him face down against the mattress as he drove into him, but he’d pulled out right when Merlin had been about to come.

Now his hand was wrapped tight around Merlin’s cock, stroking it slowly, keeping Merlin right on the edge. He watched through half-lidded eyes as Merlin tried to arch up and move in time with his strokes, but Arthur's weight kept him in place.

Frustrated, Merlin’s eyes drifted down to Arthur’s cock, which arced up toward his belly, thick and full.

“What about you?” he asked, his voice husky with arousal. Arthur shifted, spreading his knees a little wider.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked, leaning forward and placing his free hand by Merlin's head. Merlin thought for a moment before reaching down and grabbing Arthur's hand, drawing it away from his cock and moving it to Arthur's. Arthur looked down in surprise.

“You want me to--?”

“Mmm,” Merlin said in agreement, arching his back. “I want to watch.”

Arthur sat up, getting Merlin’s legs out from under him and settling between them, pushing one out to the side to spread him wider. Merlin gave him a lazy smile, reaching down to graze his fingertips up the length of his cock. Arthur loved it when he touched himself.

Predictably, Arthur’s gaze drifted downward to watch, and he wrapped his hand around his own cock. Merlin rubbed his fingertips over his slit, spreading the moisture that had gathered there. Arthur snagged his wrist, drawing the hand up to his mouth and licking the precome off Merlin's fingers before sucking them into his mouth.

“God,” Merlin breathed, torn between watching Arthur's mouth and his hand, now stroking up and down his cock. He tightened his grip on his own cock, drawing Arthur's attention. Arthur gave his fingers one last lick and released them.

Merlin let his hand fall to his belly, watching the way Arthur moved his hips, thrusting into his fist. He was starting to let out breathy little moans, his free hand coming down to cup and roll his balls. He closed his eyes, his breaths starting to come faster now.

Merlin was getting closer, but he wanted more. He reached his still-wet fingers down between his legs, brushing over his balls and then pressing down lower. He pressed them against his hole, still loose and slick from when Arthur had fucked him earlier.

He thought about how Arthur's cock had pushed into him, stretching and filling him. Merlin pushed both fingers inside, letting out a loud moan at the stretch.

“Fuck,” he gasped, his fingers sinking all the way in. Arthur's eyes snapped open, looking at his face before glancing down at the hand between his legs. His rhythm broke momentarily, his eyes wide.

“Are you--?” he started, still staring at Merlin's hand as he fucked himself. “Oh fuck, you are--”

He cut himself off with a groan and froze, face twisting as he started to come. Merlin felt the hot splashes land on his belly, his hand and cock, and he had to release himself. He didn't want to come just yet, though he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer.

Arthur was panting above him, his hand moving slower now, drawing the last of the pleasure out of his cock. He slumped forward a bit and rested for a moment before looking down at Merlin.

He took in Merlin's disheveled state, the bottom half of his body painted with Arthur's come, his fingers still buried inside himself. His cock twitched even as it started to soften, and he moved quickly, gently tugging at Merlin's hand until his fingers slid out. Arthur leaned down and licked up the underside of Merlin's cock, swirling his tongue around the head, mixing his own come with the fluid already there.

Merlin pushed his hips up, one hand grabbing at Arthur's hair as he took Merlin into his mouth. The other jammed a pillow over his face to moan into as Arthur sucked him, long, deep strokes up and down his cock. When Arthur's thick fingers replaced his own inside him, Merlin came, jerking helplessly as he held Arthur's head to his groin.

He came for what felt like forever, Arthur dutifully swallowing every last bit before pulling back and taking a deep breath through his nose, still sucking at the head of Merlin's cock. Merlin pushed him away when it became too sensitive, mumbling something under his breath that even he didn't understand. Arthur's breath tickled his inner thigh as he chuckled.

“What was that?” he asked, looking just a bit smug.

“Shu'p,” Merlin said, feeling boneless and drowsy and wonderful. Arthur crawled up and settled on top of him, resting his forehead against Merlin's.

“Good thing we decided to stay tonight,” he said, curling around Merlin and letting out a huge yawn. “I don’t think I could move if you paid me.”

Merlin nodded his agreement as he turned into the weight and warmth of Arthur's body and let it drag him into a deep sleep.


6 April 2011
Mercia vs. Camelot United
Goals Needed to Break Record: 5

 

Merlin watched as the Black Knights of Mercia filed off their team coach. He thought the name rather fitting, given the players’ surly dispositions as they marched toward their dressing room.

He could already tell it was going to be an ugly game—the two teams had a nasty rivalry between them. Percival had been going on for days about bashing in heads and crushing skulls and whatever else it was that people with large muscles did to those they didn’t like.

Supporters were already starting to file into the stadium, and there was a sense of anticipation about them as well. The two prior matches had been away, and Arthur hadn’t scored in either. Everyone was expecting a breakthrough today.

Arthur himself was on edge about it. They’d arrived together, and Merlin had left him running drills over an hour ago. Merlin wasn't sure what everyone was so nervous about; Arthur only needed five more goals to break the record and nearly two months to do it. He had plenty of time.

On the way back to the training room, he ran into Leon, who was filling up two large sacks with footballs for the pre-match warm up.

“Ah, Merlin, just the man I wanted to see. Help me carry these out to the pitch.”

Merlin arched an eyebrow. “You wanted to see me to help you carry these?” he asked, but he took one of the sacks anyway.

“Well, you are a bit of an expert on balls, aren’t you?” Leon asked, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“Only Arthur’s, mate, only Arthur’s,” Gwaine chipped in as he appeared next to them, bumping Merlin with his shoulder. He could feel himself turning bright red, which made Gwaine hoot with delight.

“I’m going to tell Elena that you snogged that barmaid,” Merlin threatened as he hefted the sack over his shoulder.

“But that was just one time,” Gwaine protested as he followed Merlin and Leon toward the pitch. “And before I even met her.”

Merlin was about to reply when there was a bit of commotion up ahead. He spotted Arthur, Elyan, and Percival talking to some of the Mercian players.

"Uh oh," Leon said, speeding up his stride.

"What's wrong?" Merlin asked, trying to keep up because bloody hell Leon's legs were long.

"Valiant," was Leon's answer. Gwaine, too, was rushing toward the crowd of players, leaving Merlin behind.

“Bloody footballers,” he muttered, reaching down to pick up the sack Leon had abandoned and then hurrying to catch up. He got there just in time to see two of the Mercians restrain the third, presumably Valiant, who was leaning heavily toward Arthur.

"You're an arrogant shit, Pendragon," Valiant was saying. "You'd do well to watch yourself, or you'll get what's coming to you."

Arthur just laughed.

"Tell me," he said jovially, "how's Sophia? You'll give her my love, won't you?"

Merlin frowned. Who the hell was Sophia? Valiant's face turned an interesting shade of purple right before he lunged at Arthur, breaking free of his teammates' hands. Leon, Elyan, and Percival all moved to intercept him, but the other Mercians managed to wrestle him under control.

"Save it for the pitch," one of them said, shooting a hateful glare back at Arthur.

"Oh, I will," Valiant said, smiling in a way that Merlin did not like. At all.

Arthur, however, didn't seem all that concerned. He'd spotted Merlin, and his face brightened into a more genuine smile. He took in the sacks that Merlin was still holding and barked out a laugh.

"I bet those things weigh more than you do."

Merlin scowled. "Sod off."

Arthur laughed, walking toward him. He grabbed took them and passed one each to Leon and Gwaine before sliding an arm around Merlin’s waist.

“Not sure you have time for a quickie now, Pendragon,” Gwaine said, smirking. “Might want to save your energy for the pitch.”

“Oh fuck,” Merlin muttered, hiding his face against Arthur’s shoulder. They were in a restricted area, so there was no danger of anyone overhearing them, but it was still weird that people talked about his and Arthur’s relationship so openly.

“Don’t you worry about my energy,” Arthur boasted, but Merlin could hear the smile in his voice,. “I’ve got plenty. Right, Merlin?”

“You are all complete wankers, and I hate you,” Merlin replied as he pulled away from Arthur’s embrace. Leon, because he was a gentleman and didn’t enjoy embarrassing Merlin nearly as much as Gwaine and Arthur did, shuffled Gwaine off toward the pitch.

Arthur backed him into a small alcove and leaned in to kiss him. Even though he was a prat, Merlin really wanted to make out with Arthur for a bit, but he also wanted to know what had just happened.

He turned his head. "Who's Sophia?"

Arthur pulled back a bit, frowning. “What?”

“You told what’s-his-face to give your love to Sophia. Why did that make him so angry?”

Arthur cocked his head. “Merlin, are you jealous?”

“No, I’m well aware you’ve been pulling anything with a pulse for several years now. I’m just curious.”

“She’s his fiancé,” Arthur said, sighing and running a hand through his hair. “We fooled around for a bit last year.”

“Was she his fiancé at the time?”

“Yes.”

“No wonder he was so cross,” Merlin said. It came out a bit more sharply than he’d intended—he knew Arthur wasn’t nearly as bad as he used to be, but it still annoyed him when he found out new examples of what a cock he’d been.

“Don’t give me that look,” Arthur said. “I didn’t know it at the time. As soon as I found out, I ended it.”

“Oh,” Merlin said, placated a bit. “Well, you still shouldn’t have taunted him. He looks a bit mental; who knows what he’s going to do now?”

“Merlin, are you worried about me?” Arthur teased, the open affection in his eyes making Merlin feel a bit breathless.

“Oh, shut up,” Merlin replied, kissing him so that he wouldn’t have to admit that yes, he was a bit worried, because he loved him and that was what people in love did. They hadn’t talked about it, but they would soon, Merlin had decided, and Merlin would tell him everything. He didn't know exactly what this was to Arthur, but he had his suspicions, and he didn’t want to keep secrets anymore.

They kissed for a while longer before Arthur pulled away, looking suddenly serious.

“You know that I’m not, right?”

Merlin blinked, feeling a bit kiss-stupid. “What?”

“What you said before,” Arthur clarified, his grip on Merlin’s hips tightening a bit. “About me pulling—well, you know I haven’t been, right? Not since—“

Merlin kissed him to shut him up, his heart thumping heavily in his chest.

“I know,” he said eventually, when they’d parted to catch their breath. “I’m not, either.”

“Well, obviously, Merlin,” Arthur drawled, digging his fingers into Merlin’s side and making him squirm away, laughing. “Who else would put up with you?”

Merlin smiled and let Arthur kiss him again.


He’d just stepped out onto the pitch when Gaius found him.

"There you are," he said to Merlin, raking his eyes over his nephew. Merlin really hoped he didn’t look like he’d just had the life snogged out of him, but from the look on Gaius’s face, it was an empty wish. "I've been looking all over for you."

"Sorry, I was—ehm, helping Arthur," he said lamely. Gaius cocked an eyebrow.

“Yes, I’m sure you were,” he replied, but continued before Merlin could melt into a pile of mortified goo. "I just wanted to let you know that you're on your own for a few hours today."

"What? Here?"

"Yes, Merlin," Gaius said, "here. There's an emergency case at the hospital, and they've called me in to come take a look."

Merlin knew that Gaius still consulted at the hospital--he was one of the top orthopaedic surgeons in Albion, after all.

"Doesn't Uther object to you leaving everything to me?"

"Given the quality of your performance and the progress Arthur has made under your care,” he said, not quite able to keep the disapproval out of his tone on the last bit, “we agreed that you're capable of handling things on your own for a few hours."

"You mean that's what you told him, and without any proof to the contrary, he was forced to agree."

Gaius's lips twitched. "Hush. You'll be fine; the emergency medics are on site should you need any help. I shouldn’t be more than a few hours.”

"Okay," Merlin said, and Gaius paused to look at him.

"You're certain that you're all right with this?"

Merlin shrugged.

"Sure. What could possibly go wrong?"


The club was on fire. From the opening kickoff, they dominated Mercia's half of the field, completely overwhelming their defenders. By the time Arthur scored the first goal in the eighth minute, the crowd was whipped into such a frenzy that they erupted into a deafening roar, shaking the stadium to its foundations. Merlin cheered right along with them, tensing in anticipation every time Arthur had the ball.

By the time the first half was over, Camelot was up three goals to nil. Right before the whistle blew, Merlin escaped to the clubhouse so he could be ready if needed. Everyone was in high spirits, though--Arthur was full of restless energy, pacing about the room despite Merlin’s efforts to get him to calm down. Merlin eventually let him be, not wanting to disrupt his concentration.

The second half started much the same way, but Mercia was more aggressive in their defence. Things got a bit heated, a bit dirtier, but Camelot kept pressing.

Finally, Arthur broke past two defenders, spinning neatly around Valiant and bearing down on the keeper. He beat him high on his right side, the net billowing out behind the ball.

Merlin jumped up and down, cheering along with the other personnel. The fans started chanting Arthur's name as play continued, and it was so easy to get swept away watching Arthur that Merlin almost missed it when it started.

Lancelot had just passed Arthur the ball and he was coming down the right side of the pitch, just past the midfield line. One of the Mercian players was charging him from the side, attempting to bump him off the ball. Arthur was bigger, though, and managed to shake him off.

Out of the corner of his eye, Merlin spotted Valiant sprinting down the field in pursuit, eyes locked on Arthur and rapidly closing the distance between them.

The look on his face made Merlin's stomach twist, and he didn't think twice before taking off at a full run, sprinting along the side of the pitch. He couldn't interfere with the players, but if he could just get close enough to somehow warn Arthur--

"Arthur, behind you!" he yelled as Valiant put on a final burst of speed.

Miraculously, Arthur actually heard him, or maybe someone else on the pitch called out to him, because he looked quickly behind him and got rid of the ball, passing it to Gwaine, who continued up the field.

Arthur slowed down, but Valiant didn't. "Look out!" Merlin screamed, out of breath, hoping his voice would carry over the noise of the crowd.

Arthur turned to the side just as Valiant went down into his tackle. Arthur tried to jump up out of his way, but he was too late; Valiant's studs smashed into his left ankle.

Merlin skidded to a stop, stunned. From where he was standing, Merlin saw the impact and the way Arthur's ankle turned unnaturally just before he came toppling down onto the pitch, and he knew, he knew, that Arthur's ankle was broken.

Horrified, he watched as Arthur rolled onto his side, screaming in agony as he clutched at his leg.

"ShitshitshitshitshitSHIT," Merlin yelled, taking off again. Thankfully, he'd run far enough down the pitch that he reached Arthur quickly, shoving people heedlessly out of his way. He dropped down onto the grass next to him, his heart trying to crawl its way up his throat.

"Arthur," he said, pulling his hands away from his leg. There were dark spots on his red socks where blood was starting to soak through. "Arthur, hold still, all right? I need you to hold still."

"Merlin," Arthur gasped, his hands coming up to grab at Merlin's jumper, "it hurts. It fucking hurts," he said, practically sobbing.

"I know,” Merlin said gently, “I know, but I need you to stay still for a minute, okay?" He glanced up at the players that had gathered in a circle around them, shielding them from view. "I need my bag," he said. "I brought it out with me after the half--it should be somewhere around the players' entrance. And have the paramedics bring the stretcher. We'll need it to move him once I've braced his ankle."

"Is it broken?" Gwaine asked quietly, voicing the question that everyone in Albion had to be asking. Arthur's season was over; his bid for the record was finished. He felt Arthur's grip on him tighten.

"I don't know," Merlin lied. "We won't know until we get some imaging done."

Arthur made a choked sound beneath him, grimacing, his face going white with pain. Without thinking twice, Merlin placed a hand on his knee, feeling his magic flare up strong and hot inside him. He gave Arthur enough to dull the pain so he could strip and splint the ankle without causing too much agony.

Lancelot returned with the ready pack and the paramedics, who moved to take over.

"No!" Merlin snapped, waving them away. "I'll take care of him. I just need you to help me get everything off so I can splint it." He looked up at the players gathered around them. "Give us some room."

Knowing that Arthur's ankle would swell the minute he got his boot, sock, and shin pad off, he quickly dug through the ready pack and prepared everything before nodding to the paramedics.

He looked down at Arthur. "I'll cut through the sock to get that off, but the boot will hurt. Just try and relax, all right?"

Arthur nodded, taking a deep breath. He draped one arm over his eyes, but the other stayed clutching Merlin’s jumper. Merlin kept one hand on Arthur's knee, willing the magic down his leg to the injured joint.

Regardless of Merlin’s attempts to numb it, Arthur sucked in a sharp breath when the paramedics got his boot off. Merlin waited impatiently for the other paramedic to cut through Arthur's sock, pulling off his shin pad as soon as it was feasible. He got his hand directly onto Arthur's ankle and actually felt Arthur sag a bit in relief as the pain receded to a manageable level.

He splinted it as quickly as he could, making sure that the ankle was stable before calling for the stretcher, keeping his hand on Arthur's foot as they transferred him onto it.

"We'll take him straight to the imaging room," Merlin said. "Find the technician; he should be on call. Also, someone needs to call Gaius."

They hoisted Arthur up and started carrying him toward the exit. Merlin stopped to grab his pack, but the minute he let go, Arthur cried out in pain, sending a spike of panic through Merlin.

"Someone bring that," he called back over his shoulder, catching up to the medics and latching onto Arthur once more.

Their progress was slow, trying to keep from jostling Arthur too much. Merlin took the time to note what was going on around them. The stadium was silent, though the fans broke into relieved applause when Arthur wearily raised a hand to acknowledge them.

Still, there was something in the air--a sadness, almost--as though everyone knew that it was over, that there would be no more for them to celebrate after this night, not until next season.


They made it to the imaging room without a problem. Morgana met them at the door, her eyes worried as she took in Arthur's leg.

"Both the technician and Gaius are on their way," she said. "What else do you need?"

Merlin glanced down at Arthur, who had his arm flung over his face again, hiding from all the people milling about trying to get a look at him. His throat worked rapidly as he swallowed again and again.

"Honestly? A little peace and quiet would be great," Merlin said. "There's nothing to be done until the technician gets here, but I'd rather keep him as calm as possible."

He didn't add that he was sure Arthur didn't want people seeing him in his current state, but Morgana seemed to get it anyway. She nodded, a determined glint in her eye.

"I'll keep everyone away. Uther will want to see him, but I'll figure out a way to hold him off for now."

"Thank you," Merlin said. Morgana squeezed his arm briefly before leaving. He turned to see the paramedics transferring Arthur onto the x-ray bed.

"You should have the ambulance ready," Merlin said. "I suspect they'll want to take him to hospital to confirm what they find here. I'll stay with him until everyone gets here."

The paramedics left, closing the door behind them. Merlin locked it before shrugging out of his coat and using the sink in the corner to wash his trembling hands. He was looking for a cloth to dry them when Arthur spoke.

"It's broken, isn't it?" he asked, sounding eerily calm. Merlin looked over at him. He’d sat up and was staring unseeing at a spot on the wall.

"I don't--"

"Don't you dare lie to me, Merlin," Arthur said, his gaze moving to Merlin’s face. Feeling helpless, Merlin nodded. "Fucking Valiant," he said, and then a loud, "FUCK!" exploded from him, making Merlin jump.

"Arthur, it's all--"

"I swear on my life, Merlin, if you tell me it's all right I will get up off this table and beat you, ankle be damned."

"Fine," Merlin snapped, angry--at Valiant for doing this, at Gaius for not being here, at himself for being so bloody helpless."What would you rather hear? That your season is over? That there's no chance you'll break the record now?"

He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth, because he loved Arthur and the last thing he wanted to do was cause him any more pain just because he was in a fit of temper.

"Yes," Arthur said simply, "because it'd be the truth." He let out a loud laugh, a little hysterical, wrapping his arms tightly around his waist. "I can just imagine the look on my father's face. He'll find a way to make this my fault, you'll see. I should've had my head up, I should've been more aware, do I have any idea how many people I've let down? How I've let him down?"

Arthur was babbling, his body practically shaking from the adrenaline.

"That's the worst bit, you know," Arthur continued, "the fans. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm disappointed, but everyone's been so excited, and now they've been cheated. I just--"

Arthur's voice broke at the end, his hands coming up to cover his face. Merlin looked down at the floor, pretending not to see the tears leaking from the corners of Arthur's eyes, knowing Arthur would want it so.

He couldn’t stay away for long, though, moving to Arthur’s side and sitting a hip onto the table next to him. He put a hand on Arthur’s leg, trying to comfort him.

It seemed to help, a bit, because Arthur’s breathing lost its harsh sound. He wiped at his face before leaning forward and resting his head against Merlin’s shoulder. Merlin immediately began carding his hand through Arthur’s hair, heedless of the sweat and dirt that made it clump around his fingers. He rested his cheek against the top of Arthur’s head and closed his eyes

It wasn't fair, he thought, that Arthur had had this taken away from him. It would've been a less bitter pill to swallow had it been an accident; those were, after all, the perils of the game. But to have it end out of a deliberate act of spite--and there was no doubt whatsoever in Merlin’s mind that Valiant had meant to break Arthur's ankle--it was just wrong.

Merlin's magic prickled under his skin, adding its own protest, wanting to set things right. He knew that he shouldn’t—that it could, probably would change everything. But then he thought about Arthur, this stupid, arrogant prat that he loved, who was still crying quietly, not for himself, but because he’d let so many people down, and he made his decision.

He pulled away slowly, putting his hands on Arthur’s shoulders to put some distance between him. There must’ve been something in his expression, because Arthur blinked rapidly a few times before frowning.

“Merlin, what—“

Merlin leaned in and kissed him, hard. Arthur made a surprised noise, but Merlin pulled away before he could either reciprocate or protest. He slid off the table and started unwrapping the binding he'd used to secure Arthur's ankle.

"What are you doing?" Arthur asked, his voice hoarse.

“Do you trust me?” Merlin asked, pausing and looking Arthur dead in the eye.

“Of course I do,” Arthur said, like he thought Merlin was stupid for even asking. “But what—?“

"I'm going to try something," Merlin said, holding the ankle steady while he removed the boards, "but I need you to stay absolutely still, no matter what, okay?" He waited until Arthur nodded before proceeding.

Merlin examined the ankle quickly--it was definitely broken, turned at an odd angle and swelling up rapidly. Merlin knew he was running out of time, so he'd have to work fast.

His magic pushed forward into his hands, guiding them both to Arthur's ankle. He hadn't attempted anything this complex before, but he knew the end result he wanted, so he just held that in his mind and let the magic work, trusting that it would know what to do.

He gritted his teeth as it surged through him: hot, stronger than he'd ever felt it. It flowed unchecked into Arthur, swirling around the injured joint, mending the fractures to the bones and knitting the damaged tendons back together.

Merlin could see it, feel it working, and he concentrated all his energy on pulling it back before it healed Arthur completely. There was no way he'd be able to explain that.

When it finally receded, pulling back into Merlin's body, he opened his eyes to find Arthur bracing one arm against the wall, staring at him in shock. His ankle was still swollen, but less unnaturally so--more consistent with a bad sprain. The shallow cuts from where Valiant's spikes had gotten under Arthur's shin pad were still there, but they wouldn't keep Arthur from playing. He'd still have to stay off it for a few weeks, but that was better than a season-ending injury.

"What was--what did you--?" Arthur spluttered, eyes wide, but then there was a loud banging at the door. Merlin stumbled to answer it, feeling utterly drained, and opened it to find Uther Pendragon, Gaius, and a man he assumed to be the x-ray technician all stood on the other side, glaring at him.

"Why was this door locked?" Uther bellowed, making Merlin wince. A headache blossomed behind his eyes.

"Sorry," he muttered, dropping into a chair near the door. "Don't know how that happened."

The three men all swarmed around Arthur, who was still staring at Merlin incredulously. Merlin rested his head against the wall, too tired to do anything but stare back blearily.

He couldn't focus enough to listen to what was going on. Gaius was examining Arthur's ankle under Uther's watchful eye. They spoke in hushed tones, Gaius looking more and more perplexed as the minutes passed. Eventually, they both looked over at him.

"Merlin, could you come here please?" Gaius asked, his tone laced with censure.

Merlin really, really wanted to say no, mainly because he wasn't sure his legs would support him. But he had a feeling that Gaius had figured out what he'd done, and he'd only be making it worse for himself. He got up slowly. When he was sure he wouldn't fall over, he moved to join them.

"Are you all right?" Gaius asked when Merlin swayed on his feet a bit, concern momentarily overtaking his anger.

"Fine," Merlin said. "Adrenaline's wearing off, I suppose."

Gaius arched an eyebrow. "Tell us exactly what happened," he said, "from the beginning."

Arthur’s gaze had finally moved from Merlin and he was now staring resolutely at his foot.

"I saw him--I saw Valiant coming," Merlin said. "I saw him, and I ran down the side of the pitch and yelled to warn Arthur. He turned and tried to jump out of the way, but it was too late."

"So it was intentional," Uther growled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“It looked that way, yes."

"And after that?"

"I was close enough that I was able to get to Arthur immediately to stabilize his ankle. I got the splint on right away, and then the paramedics brought him back here."

"They tell me you refused to let them help you treat him," Uther said, giving Merlin an appraising look.

He felt his face flush, remembering the way he'd snapped at them, the fear and anger that’d made him feel fiercely protective of Arthur. "I thought it best to have as few pairs of hands involved as possible," he said. "There was only so much that could be done at that point, and I was perfectly capable of doing it myself."

Uther made a thoughtful noise. "Arthur, do you have anything to add?”

Arthur blinked slowly, and Merlin could see his posture setting, becoming more rigid. He looked at his father and then at Merlin, and for a moment all Merlin could feel was blind panic. There was nothing in his eyes when Arthur looked at him, and Arthur hadn’t looked at him like that in a very long time. Merlin was suddenly certain that Arthur was going to tell them the truth.

But all he said was, “From what I remember, that’s what happened.”

Uther turned to Gaius. “Well?”

Merlin's uncle took a deep breath. "It'll need to be confirmed by the x-ray, of course, but it appears, miraculously, that all the bones are intact and it is merely a bad sprain."

Arthur was still watching Merlin with that odd, blank expression, and it was starting to make him uncomfortable. He shifted awkwardly from foot to foot.

"Amazing," Uther said, placing a hand on Arthur's shoulder. "From the way he went down, I was sure it was broken."

"I've always found him prone to melodrama, myself," Merlin offered before he could stop himself. That earned him a glare from both Pendragons and an eye roll from his uncle.

The technician interrupted them. "Ready when you are," he told Uther, who nodded.

Merlin took the opportunity to try and make a getaway. "I'll just go wait outside," he said, eager to escape for a moment to regroup.

"I think I'll join you," Gaius said, turning to the technician. "I'll be along shortly to examine the film."

Merlin resigned himself to the lecture that was sure to come. He let Gaius pull him into a small alcove off the main corridor, where he proceeded to cuff Merlin round the back of the head, hard.

"Ow," Merlin said, rubbing at it while trying not to glare at his uncle.

"Stupid boy," Gaius fumed. "Tell me you didn't do what I think you did." When Merlin didn't answer, Gaius sighed. "Merlin, what were you thinking?"

"It wasn't fair, all right?" Merlin said, trying to keep his voice down. "If he'd gotten hurt on accident, that'd be one thing, but Valiant did it on purpose. I was just setting things right--restoring the balance of nature, or something."

"Merlin--"

"He was so upset, Gaius. He started carrying on about disappointing the fans and then he was crying. I couldn't let it end that way, I just couldn't."

Gaius’s face softened, but only a bit. “Merlin, I know that there’s something going on between you two—“

Merlin blushed. "It’s not even about that,” he said, lying. “It’s not about me, or even just about him. I mean, isn't that what you told me? Why should an arse like Valiant take this away from everyone?"

Gaius stayed quiet, waiting, until Merlin admitted, "All right, yes, fine, my—feelings had a bit to do with it. I just--he should be out there right now with his teammates, you know it as well as I do."

"Be that as it may," Gaius said, "you cannot go around performing miracles, Merlin, not without attracting attention."

"I haven't!" Gaius just arched an eyebrow. "Until tonight, anyway."

Gaius conceded that point with a reluctant nod. "Well, by some complete miracle, none of the cameras appear to have gotten a clear view of what happened."

Merlin blanched. Fuck, he hadn't even thought about the cameras.

"I'm sorry, Gaius, I really am. I know I promised, but I--"

Gaius waved a hand, cutting him off, all his anger seeming to drain out of him, leaving him looking tired. Merlin felt a pang of guilt. "While I don't agree with what you did--at all--your intentions were admirable," he said, putting a hand on Merlin's shoulder.

Merlin managed a small smile, grateful that his uncle was trying.

"Come on," Gaius said gently, "let's get back and see what's going on."

Merlin sank back into the chair he'd abandoned as soon as they were back in the room. He looked down at his watch. Not even an hour had passed since it happened, but it felt like years.

Gaius eventually came back with Uther, his face grim. Merlin's heart thumped worryingly in his chest. What if, instead of helping Arthur, he'd done some sort of irreparable harm to his ankle? It hadn't felt wrong, but if it all went to hell, he had to find a way to fix it; he supposed he could always--

"Well," Gaius said, "the x-ray has confirmed my initial diagnosis. No bones are broken, though an MRI will be done at the hospital to assess any damage to the surrounding area. Knowing Arthur, I suspect this won't set him back more than a few weeks."

Merlin slumped back against the wall in relief. He could deal with injured tendons, he thought, could help them along if Arthur wanted, and--

He cut off that line of thought as Gaius's eyebrow shot up, as though he knew exactly what Merlin was thinking. Abashed, he just said, "I'm relieved to hear that."

Uther stepped forward, clearing his throat. "Arthur said that he heard you. On the pitch, trying to warn him about that...that cretin," he said, his lip curling up in a sneer, "and that that was the only reason he was able to move out of the way to avoid a more serious injury. That, of course, and your quick response. So, thank you."

Merlin blinked, avoiding his uncle's eyes. "I was just doing my job, sir, but I appreciate that."

Uther nodded, all business again. "Gaius and I will be accompanying Arthur to the hospital for his MRI. Morgana is staying behind to deal with the media. I suspect she'll need you to be available to answer questions. I'd also like you to give a statement to the police. I plan on pursuing criminal charges against Mr. Greene."

Merlin nodded, resigning himself to a long, sleepless night.


The official story that Morgana released was exactly what Uther had told Merlin: that despite Valiant's Nefarious Purposes (capitalized for emphasis), Merlin's intervention and quick response helped prevent a more serious injury.

As a result, Merlin was thrown into the spotlight, becoming something of a hero. On the one hand, it was nice being able to actually take credit for something he'd done, even if no one but he, Arthur, and Gaius knew the entire story.

On the other, Merlin had never enjoyed being the centre of attention. He wasn't shy, by any means; close scrutiny just made him nervous, and all of a sudden, overnight, everyone wanted to know everything about him. What his childhood was like, what had made him want to become a doctor, how his clinical work had progressed before going to work for the club, his marks at school, so on and so forth.

The university loved the attention; professors that Merlin was sure he'd never even met were suddenly coming forward to tell the media how they'd always believed he was going to do great things. People started stopping him randomly to congratulate him, or to talk to him about it. It took absolutely everything he had not to tell the lot of them to just fuck off.

The only person who didn’t seem all that impressed was Arthur. His official position was that yes, he was grateful for Merlin's quick thinking, but ultimately he was focused on getting back onto the pitch and resuming his hunt for the goal record as soon as possible. He’d be back on the pitch in two weeks, and then he had over a month in which to score the final five goals.

He was once again Abion’s golden boy, untouchable in every way. Untouchable even, it turned out, for Merlin.

After it happened, it was impossible to get Arthur alone when they were at the stadium. There was always someone around, be it reporters or paparazzi or Uther checking up on his son’s progress. Before, when that was the case, Arthur would call or text him. But Merlin’s phone remained stubbornly silent.

At first Merlin thought all Arthur needed was a bit of time to process what had happened, what he’d learned about Merlin. He had to have been connecting the dots between all the work Merlin had done on his knee and what Merlin had done to fix his ankle, and Merlin could appreciate that it was a lot to take in. He missed him, missed him terribly, but he could give Arthur time.

And then Gauis told Merlin that Arthur had requested that Gaius work with him on rehabilitating the injury.

“Oh,” Merlin said, stung. “Did he say why?”

“He said that, given the situation, he would prefer it if I were to take over any further treatment on his ankle,” and here Gaius hesitated, “and in general.”

“The situation,” Merlin repeated flatly, anger bubbling up in his chest for the first time. “What situation would that be, exactly? The one where he bloody goaded Valiant into trying to maim him and then I fixed it so that he could keep going after his stupid record?”

Gaius put a hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “Merlin, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way….”

“I know, I know,” he said, sighing, dropping his head. “You told me so.”

“Just because someone can do something extraordinary—,” he said, putting a finger under Merlin’s chin and lifting his head to look him in the eye, “—and you are extraordinary—doesn’t mean that people are going to accept it. Sometimes it is just beyond what they want to comprehend.”

“I know,” Merlin said, feeling his eyes start to sting. Bloody hell, he was not going to cry. “I just thought—“

“I know,” Gaius said, pulling him into a hug. Merlin hugged him back tightly, grateful for his uncle’s support. “Would that I could have spared you the lesson, Merlin. But you’re stubborn. You always were,” he said fondly. “Now come on, there’s work to be done.”

“Right,” Merlin said, straightening and putting on a smile for his uncle’s benefit, when all he really wanted to do what go home and curl up into a ball on the couch. “Lead the way.”


1 May 2011
Camelot United vs. Wessex FC
Goals Needed to Break Record: 5

 

“How could I have been so stupid?” he asked, his face buried in his hands as the match blared on the television in the background. Elena sat on the couch next to him, rubbing soothing circles on his back. “I should’ve known better,” he continued. “I should’ve fucking listened to Gaius and just left it alone. I wish I’d never done it,” he added, feeling a bit spiteful.

“You don’t mean that,” Elena said, quiet but firm. “I know that you don’t mean that.”

“And why shouldn’t I? The stupid arse couldn’t even bloody say thank you, even though the only reason he’s playing today at all is because of me.”

Arthur had been travelling with the club, but Merlin hadn’t gone to an away match since The Incident. There was no point, really. It had never been required of him to travel with the club. But he’d gone because Arthur had always asked, and Merlin had wanted to be with him.

He let out a groan.

“I am such a stupid fool,” he said, pressing the heels of his hands hard against his eyes. He’d already cried once today, and that had been Elena’s fault. She’d arrived at his flat, taken one look at him, and her face had gone so sad, like her heart was breaking for him. He hadn’t been able to keep his face from crumpling in response.

“You are not a fool,” Elena said. “You are kind and generous and wonderful. The only thing you did wrong was thinking that stupid, selfish arsehole would appreciate what you did for him.”

Elena had been livid when Merlin had told her about his conversation with Gaius. She’d stomped around his flat red-faced for a good twenty minutes spewing profanity. Merlin had just watched her, bemused. If nothing else, it made him feel better that she was so vehemently on his side.

“Thanks, Ellie,” he said, leaning to the side and resting his head against her shoulder briefly.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to do anything? My offer still stands.”

During her tirade, she’d threatened more than once to chop Arthur’s “stupid cock off” and cram it in several uncomfortable places. He had to chuckle.

“No, it’s okay. I’d love to know how you think you’d pull that off, though.”

“Gwaine would help. I know he would. Maybe some of the other lads as well.”

It hadn’t taken long for Gwaine to cotton on that something was amiss between Arthur and Merlin, and once he got a sketchy idea of what’d happened there was no keeping it from the others. But because all that they knew was that Merlin had somehow performed a miracle and kept Arthur’s quest alive, and then in return Arthur had apparently dumped Merlin, they’d been quick to rally around Merlin. Even Leon was angry, and Leon never got angry.

But that wasn’t what Merlin wanted, to be the cause of strife between members of the club. He’d already asked that everyone behave, or at the very least keep up appearances. They’d get their message across—Arthur would know the difference.

“It’s fine, Ellie,” he said, smiling at her. “I’ll be all right. I’ve just got to buckle down on my exams for now. I’ll be over it before you know it.”

From the dubious look she gave him, he hadn’t done a very good job of lying through his teeth.


22 May 2011
Camelot United vs. North Umbria
Goals Needed to Break Record: 0

 

Slumped on his sofa, Merlin watched as the players swarmed the pitch, lifting Arthur up onto their shoulders in celebration. He raised his arms in and threw his head back, shouting something and then laughing as they carried him about.

Next to him, Elena slipped her fingers between his and squeezed.


25 May 2011

 

“Oh, bollocks,” Merlin said, coming to a halt right inside the personnel exit. He had another interview, his second to last, and he’d forgotten to grab his notes from the training room before leaving.

He ran back toward the clubhouse and threw the door open, coming face-to-face with Arthur.

They both froze, Arthur with his shirt half on and Merlin just inside the doorway. Arthur had become good at making himself scarce, and Merlin hadn’t really seen him since the club had returned from North Umbria and Arthur had broken the record.

After a few awkward moments, Arthur recovered first and pulled his shirt over his head. Merlin hated the fact that he couldn’t help but stare, couldn’t help but think how beautiful Arthur was, even after all that’d happened.

“Stop standing there with your mouth open,” Arthur said. “You look ridiculous.”

“Fuck you,” Merlin shot back, shock slowly being replaced by anger.

“How many times have I told you,” Arthur said, sounding tired as he packed his clothes into his bag. “You can’t talk to me that way.”

“How many times have I told you that I’ll talk to you any way I damn well please,” Merlin said, turning toward the training room, because he really didn’t want to deal with this when he had an interview to go to.

“Not about everything, apparently,” Arthur muttered under his breath. Merlin turned back to face him.

“What was that?”

“You bloody well heard me,” Arthur shot back, angry, the first real hint of emotion Merlin had seen from him in over a month.

“Oh yeah, because you’re doing such a bang-up job making me feel like I could’ve told you about it.”

Arthur actually laughed. “What did you expect? That I was going to be fine with it? That I was just going to forget about the fact that you lied to me—“

“I didn’t lie!”

“Fine, that you neglected to tell me that you can, I don’t know, do magic, and that everything would go back to the way it was? If that’s the case, you’re a bigger idiot than I thought.”

Merlin felt his shoulders sag a bit. He knew that Arthur had a point.

“I was going to tell you.”

“Oh yeah? When?”

“I—I don’t know. I’d just decided that day to tell you, but obviously I wasn’t expecting all of that to happen.”

“You shouldn’t have waited even that long. You should've trusted me.”

“All right, fine—“

“Did you do anything else?”

Merlin paused, looking at Arthur, who was standing rigidly next to the bench, fists clenched. “What do you mean?”

“Did you do anything else?” Arthur repeated, waving his hand back and forth between them. “This—you and I—did you do something to make that happen?”

He blinked, unable to comprehend what Arthur was asking him. He took in Arthur’s belligerent stance, his anger, and understood. It hurt, deeper than anything had thus far, that Arthur would think that of him.

“How can you even ask that?”

“Why not? It’s not like I had anyone explain it to me, or anything. How am I supposed to know the rules?”

“I may not have told you about this one thing,” he started, ignoring it when Arthur snorted, “but you know me.”

“Not as well as I thought, apparently.”

It was hard because Arthur was partly right, and were he in a sounder frame of mind, Merlin might’ve used the opportunity to try and salvage the situation. He could see that Arthur wasn’t just angry, he was also hurt and confused. It was there, plain as day, in his eyes and in the way he held himself defensively.

But Merlin was hurt, too, and he was so, so angry that Arthur would accuse him of that. So he said nothing, and they stood there watching each other until the door opened and Gwaine walked in, stopping short when he saw them.

“What’s going on?” he immediately asked, eyes darting back and forth between them. While the atmosphere had grown a bit warmer between Arthur and the others as time had passed, Gwaine remained staunchly on Merlin’s side.

“Nothing,” Arthur said immediately. Gwaine ignored him completely and moved closer to Merlin, placing a hand on his shoulder, giving him a little shake. Merlin saw the tic in Arthur’s jaw at the touch.

“You all right, mate?” he asked.

Merlin finally tore his gaze away from Arthur and looked at his friend, trying to smile.

“I’m fine. Just forgot my notes for the interview.” He glanced at the clock on the wall and groaned. “Which I am going to be late for. I’ll never make it by train.”

“I’ll drive you.”

Merlin’s smile became more genuine. “Thanks. I’ll just grab my notes and I’ll be right out.”

“You sure you don’t want me to wait?”

“Nope, I’m good.”

Gwaine hesitated a bit longer, but when Merlin turned toward the training room, he eventually left. Merlin grabbed his notes and stuffed them into his bag.

When he got back out into the dressing room, Arthur was sitting on the bench, his elbows resting on his knees, his head buried in his hands. Merlin continued to the door, knowing that Gwaine hadn’t gone to his car and would be waiting in the hall for Merlin to come out.

He stopped, turning to look back at Arthur.

“By the way,” he said, waiting for Arthur to lift his head and look at him. “Congratulations.”

Arthur opened his mouth to reply, but Merlin turned away and went to meet Gwaine, letting the door close behind him.


1 June 2011

 

After Arthur broke the record, the remainder of the season was a complete anti-climax. There’d been only three games left to play after North Umbria, and the results hardly mattered. The club wound up winning the league trophy, but even that was overshadowed by Arthur’s accomplishment.

Predictably, the coverage was completely insane. Arthur’s face was everywhere: on every news programme, on the cover of every tab and magazine. Companies even ran congratulatory posters on the sides of buses and taxis, all because they were so proud of their “prince.”

Merlin didn’t see Arthur much. Having sat out the games after breaking the record, he only came in for the last match, which was at home, where they’d been presented with the trophy. The roar from the crowd when Arthur had hoisted it had been deafening.

Merlin hadn’t bothered coming in to work that day.

The players were officially done now, and everyone was running around packing up their things. Merlin himself had managed to accumulate a small pile, things he’d brought in and left, or random things he’d picked up along the way. He left all of the things that he’d gotten from or with Arthur, not wanting the reminder.

He was doing better, though—he’d sat his last exam the day prior, and he was no longer crushingly depressed about the whole situation. He’d had a difficult few weeks since their conversation, and Merlin still missed Arthur terribly. But he’d gotten much better at shoving those kinds of thoughts aside, only to be brought out when he was alone and very, very drunk.

He was just cinching his bag shut when Gaius knocked on the door.

“Hi,” Merlin said, smiling. Both his uncle and Uther had given stellar recommendations to his university and to the doctors he’d interviewed with, and as a result he’d had several offers. He was going to take a bit of time off first to relax before deciding.

“Uther sent me to get you—he wants to speak with you,” Gaius said.

“He does? Why?”

“One does not ask Uther ‘why’ he does things, Merlin. One simply does them.”

Merlin shrugged, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “All right.”

Merlin hadn’t been up to Uther’s office since the altercation nearly nine months prior, and he had to smile a bit at how things had changed since then. He and Arthur were still on the outs; that bit hadn’t changed, but the reasons for it couldn’t possibly be more different.

There was no waiting this time, and Uther looked up when they entered the office. Morgana was there as well—she smiled at him, a bit sad, and he felt a pang of guilt. She’d tried talking to him a few times after things had gone to shit with Arthur, but he’d brushed her off, not wanting to have to explain what’d happened. As a result, he hadn’t seen her much.

“Ah, Merlin,” Uther said. “Please, sit down.”

Merlin sat, once again struck with déjà vu as Gaius took the seat next to him. “I don’t think I had the chance to congratulate you yet, sir, on the club’s accomplishments this season.”

Morgana rolled her eyes at Merlin’s blatant arse-kissing, kicking his shoe gently. He smiled up at her, knowing he was forgiven for whatever might’ve happened the past few weeks. Uther didn’t appear to mind, though.

“Thank you! Though I dare say we wouldn’t have nearly as much to celebrate if it weren’t for you.”

Ignoring the way his stomach suddenly lurched, Merlin smiled. “Honestly, it was more luck than anything. But thank you.”

Uther sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers together as he examined Merlin. He tried not to fidget under the scrutiny. He might’ve gotten a bit more comfortable around Uther, but the man was still intimidating.

Finally Uther sat forward and rested his elbows on his desk. “You’ve worked hard, Merlin, and the players speak very highly of you. Really, they cannot say enough good things about you.”

His smile was much more genuine this time. “I’ve enjoyed working with them as well.”

“You’re also very humble, which I like. So many people would’ve handled that business with Valiant Greene differently—would’ve sold the story, or otherwise tried to profit from it.”

Merlin frowned. The idea had never occurred to him. Uther stood up and walked around to the front of his desk, leaning against it as he looked down at Merlin.

“I understand you’ve been interviewing for positions,” he said, waiting for Merlin to nod in confirmation. “Have you made a decision?”

“No, sir. I have a while yet before I have to choose.”

“Well, in that case, I’d like to offer you another option.”

Merlin darted a quick glance at his uncle. “Sir?”

“As a junior physician here, with the club. It’s a bit unorthodox, I know, but so was your employment in the first place.”

Somehow, of all the reasons he’d conjured up for Uther wanting to see him, offering him a job hadn’t been on the list. On the one hand, he was elated. What an accomplishment, and what a job to get right out of university! On the other hand….

Arthur.

He didn’t want to be stuck in an awkward work environment. And to be honest, he didn’t want to stand around and watch while Arthur went back to his old way of life, pulling left and right. Not when a part of him still wanted Arthur for himself.

Even so, he’d be damned if he was going to let Arthur Pendragon chase him out of a dream job.

“When do you need to know?” Merlin asked, looking up at Uther. Both he and Morgana looked surprised, as though it hadn’t occurred to them that Merlin wouldn’t accept on the spot. Knowing Uther’s temperament, he rushed to mitigate.

“I’d just like to think about it for a bit. I’d been planning on going back to Ealdor after school finished.”

That wasn’t entirely true, but they didn’t have to know that. Uther nodded.

“Of course you’ll need time to think about it,” he said, standing and walking back around to sit in his chair. “When do you need to decide on your other positions?”

“The end of July.” Some were earlier, but that was the date for the one Merlin was most inclined to accept.

“That should be fine,” Uther said. “The club starts back here in August.”

“Thank you.”

“Good. I look forward to hearing from you. Enjoy your time off.”

Dismissed, Merlin stood to go.

“I’ll walk you out,” Morgana said, taking him by the arm, “I’ve got to go find Leon anyway.”

While they stood waiting for the lift, Morgana turned to him.

“Listen,” she started, and Merlin scrunched up his face.

“Morgana—“

“No, hear me out. I don’t know what happened between you and Arthur, but I really hope you’re not considering turning the job down because of him.”

Merlin looked at her, surprised. The lift dinged as it arrived, and as they stepped on, he figured he owed her some sort of explanation.

“That’s part of it,” he admitted. “But the reason I didn’t say no outright is because, well, frankly, I’d be an idiot if I did. I just need some time to wrap my head around it.”

He let that sink in as they descended. They were almost to the dressing room when she stopped him.

“He misses you.”

Merlin looked down at the ground, a hot feeling spreading inside his chest. He scuffed a toe against the cement.

“He’s got a funny way of showing it.” He supposed they both did, but he allowed himself the pettiness.

“That’s because he’s got the emotional capacity of a brick,” Morgana said, and Merlin had to laugh. “Except when he was with you. He was different then.”

“Morgana—“

“I know, I know,” she said, putting her hands up. “I’m not meddling. I just wanted to let you know that. In case you were wondering.”

“I hadn’t been,” Merlin lied, “but thank you.”

She kissed him on the cheek before going into the dressing room, leaving him standing alone in the hallway.


22 July 2011

 

“Arthur Pendragon’s outside!”

Merlin dropped the pound coins he’d been about to hand to the cashier, swearing as they rolled all over the counter.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, trying to collect them. The clerk, however, wasn’t paying him any attention.

“Oh my—didn’t you hear? It’s Arthur Pendragon! Here, in Ealdor!”

Merlin had heard, all right. He just was not prepared to deal with the possible implications of that fact. “Yes, I’m not deaf. Can I just buy these, and then you can go and gawk along with everyone else?”

He hadn’t meant to be so harsh, but he tended to lash out when he was panicking. Which he was. A lot. What the devil would bring Arthur here to Ealdor, to the very same store where Merlin was? Wasn’t he meant to be in America with the club? Surely the fates didn’t hate him that much.

The clerk narrowed her eyes at him before snatching his coins and practically throwing them into the till. She shoved his change at him. “Have a nice day, sir.”

All right, he deserved that. He gathered up the bag with the rolls his mother had called frantically about not fifteen minutes earlier.

“Where are you?” she’d asked, sounding breathless. When he’d told her, she’d said, “Could you stop by the bakery and pick up some rolls for dinner? I forgot to tell you before you left.”

“Old age, mum, I’m telling you,” he’d teased, changing course to pass the small bakery on his way back from the green grocer. Expecting reproach for his cheek, he’d been surprised when she said,

“I love you, my boy.” And then hung up. He’d looked at the phone and shrugged, stuffing it into his pocket.

Sighing, he pulled one of the rolls out of the bag and took a bite, chewing as he pondered what to do.

He’d been in Ealdor for about a month, happy to get away from Camelot and everything he’d left behind. Elena had gone to New York to meet up with Gwaine, and she’d be travelling with him for the next few weeks. Merlin was happy for her, he really was, but a part of him couldn’t help resenting the fact that he probably would’ve gone, too, had he still been with Arthur.

Having had a lot of time to think about it, he understood that they were both to blame: Merlin for not telling Arthur and Arthur for his reaction. But the fact of the matter was that Arthur had pushed him away, and hadn’t given any indication that he’d had second thoughts about that.

Until now.

He looked toward the door. In the past, he’d always tried to hide when Arthur did something like this, tried to blend in with the crowd.

But no, not this time. This was his home, and he wasn’t going to so skulking off like he had something to be ashamed of. Arthur was bloody well going to see him.

He walked to the front of the bakery with his bags. Arthur’s Aston was parked outside, and there was a small crowd around him. As always, he was smiling and chatting with people as he signed autographs and posed for photographs. He was tanned, and his hair was bleached blond from running around in the sun, or frolicking on the beach, or whatever the hell else he’d been doing.

He looked amazing.

Merlin tried not to feel self-conscious about the fact that he’d let his hair go a bit, or that he hadn’t shaved in several days, or that he was in a t-shirt and ratty jeans. It wasn’t like any of it mattered.

Shaking his head, he pushed the door open. The bell attached to it tinkled as it moved, drawing Arthur’s attention. Even behind his stupid aviator sunglasses, Merlin could see his eyes widen.

“Merlin,” he said.

Getting Arthur’s attention had seemed like a good idea in theory, but in reality he was completely unprepared. He hadn’t felt his magic at all since he’d used it on Arthur, like it’d known something was broken. But now it kicked in with a jolt that left him slightly breathless.

Suddenly wanting to avoid this confrontation, he hopped down the two steps to the pavement and started walking. He wasn’t about to break into a run, but it was a close thing.

Just when he thought he’d gotten far enough away that he was almost safe, he heard footsteps pounding on the pavement behind him.

“Merlin, wait,” Arthur said, sailing past him and then turning around, putting his hands up to stop Merlin’s progress.

“Get out of my way.”

“Just stop for a minute, would you?”

“No. Get out of my way,” Merlin repeated, his voice rising a bit in his agitation. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed people slowing down in recognition, or stopping to get a better look at Arthur.

When Arthur didn’t move, Merlin huffed out a breath and pushed past him. He was halted again when Arthur grabbed one of the bags from him.

“For fuck’s sake,” Merlin said, spinning around. “What do you fucking want, Arthur?”

“I want to talk to you.”

“The time for talking has well passed, I think,” Merlin said, tugging on his parcel, trying to get it away from Arthur. His flight instinct was kicking in, and he just wanted to get away from there.

But Arthur didn’t let go. “That’s fine, but if you walk away, I am just going to go back to my car and follow you, and I swear, Merlin, I will honk the horn and make a racket all the way back to your mother’s house.”

Merlin gaped at him for a moment before finding his tongue. “You stupid, insufferable prat. You would do that, wouldn’t you?”

They’d gathered a fairly large crowd around them by now, and Arthur darted a nervous glance around. He stepped closer, lowering his voice. “Can we please have this conversation somewhere that isn’t the main street of the sodding town?”

“Why should I care? I didn’t invite you here.”

“Fair enough, but do you really want to get into this in front of all these people, most of whom probably know your mother?”

Merlin pressed his lips together. Damn him, the stupid arse was right. He didn’t want to get into this on the main street, and most of these people did know his mother. He scowled, shoving his parcels at Arthur.

“Fine. You take these in your car. I’ll meet you back at my mother’s.”

Arthur frowned, juggling the packages until he had them righted. “What—where are you going?”

“I’m walking home. I need to get my head on straight.”

It seemed as though he was about to protest, but he took another look at Merlin’s face and wisely thought better of it. “Right, I’ll see you there.”

Merlin walked two full streets before he had to stop, ducking into an alleyway to lean against a wall. He clenched his hands into fists and pressed them back against the wall to stop them trembling.

He hadn’t realized how much anger he’d still had left inside him, or where it was coming from. He’d really wanted to hit Arthur, to punch him right in his stupid, beautiful face, just like he had that first day they’d met.

Merlin laughed out loud, drawing some odd looks from people passing by. He wondered if he and Arthur were stuck in some sort of weird cosmic loop, destined to keep repeating the same interactions over and over again until they finally got them right. He tipped his head back and rested it against the brick, taking deep breaths until he felt calmer.

He’d thought he had this sorted, this pain inside him that came from truly loving something and then losing it. He thought he’d been okay, he had been okay until Arthur showed up.

He realized that he’d been fooling himself thinking he’d be able to work for the club again, if this was what happened the minute he saw Arthur again. It would’ve been a complete disaster.

Sighing, he pushed himself away from the wall. Arthur would come back and look for him if he didn’t appear soon, of that he was certain. The walk back to his mum’s took him about twenty-five minutes, which he used to play out every possible way this could go. At the end of it, when he arrived home, he could only really conclude one thing.

He’d really missed Arthur.

Arthur, who was sitting on the steps surrounded by Merlin’s shopping, looking equally miserable. He gathered everything up when he saw Merlin and stood, waiting to be let in. He watched in silence as Merlin unpacked.

Finally, Merlin couldn’t take it anymore. “Why did you come here, Arthur?”

“To talk to you.”

“You couldn’t have called?”

“Would you have answered?”

Merlin thought about it for a while. “Probably not,” he concluded.

“Then no, I couldn’t have called.”

“So fine,” Merlin said, tired, as he finished with the groceries. “Talk.”

“I know that I acted like a complete arse,” Arthur started, looking down at the floor. “But I freaked out, all right? I had no idea what was happening.”

“So your first instinct was to assume that I’d put some sort of spell on you to make you want to be with me?”

That’d been the most difficult thing for Merlin to get over. He wasn’t entirely sure he was over it even now, since bringing it up again brought the ache back to his chest.

“I told you, I panicked. I mean, Merlin—what you did—“

“I understand that it was a big shock,” Merlin said, placing both hands flat on the counter, “but you didn’t even give me a chance to explain. You just pushed me away.”

“How was I supposed to react? It’s not every day you learn that your boyfriend has magical healing powers. There’s no rulebook for me to consult. As far as I know, you’re the only person that can do this.”

Merlin ignored the way his heart skipped a beat at the word “boyfriend,” trying to focus on his lingering anger.

“You were supposed to let me explain.”

“And you were supposed to tell me and not let me find out the way I did.”

“But it’s not like I did something bad to you. I healed you. If it weren’t for me, you'd never have broken that record.”

“Don’t you think I bloody well know that?” Arthur said, taking a step closer. “Don’t you think that’s the very first thing that crossed my mind when it happened?”

Merlin gave him a sad smile at that. “No. No, I don’t.”

Arthur swallowed, looking stricken. “Well, it was. I already knew by then that I’d cocked things up, and I didn’t know how to fix them.”

“You could’ve tried talking to me.”

“You could’ve told me.”

Merlin realized that they could go on like this, back and forth, blaming each other for a very long time. He was too tired for that.

“I told you, I was going to. Would you rather I had just left everything the way it was? That I’d let your ankle stay broken?”

Arthur didn’t answer. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “Were you really going to tell me?”

“Yes,” Merlin said, sighing. “The people who know—my mum, Gaius, Elena, Will—they’ve known for so long. I’ve never even considered telling someone else before. I hadn’t figured out how, or when, but I was going to.”

Arthur was silent for a moment, and then, “I’m sorry.”

The two words raised so many conflicting emotions that Merlin didn’t know what to say. He just nodded, rubbing his face with his hands. He felt Arthur move closer.

“I missed you,” Arthur admitted, his voice hesitant. “When I was overseas with the club, and I saw Elena with Gwaine, I wanted—well, I thought it would’ve been nice to have you there.”

Merlin cracked a genuine smile. “I thought the same thing every time she called.” He paused for a moment. “How are you even here? I thought the club wasn’t due back until next week.”

“I left early. They don’t really need me,” he answered easily enough, but Merlin could tell that wasn’t all.

“And?”

“And Elena threatened to cut my bollocks off one too many times. She’s a bit mental, that one.”

Merlin couldn’t help the grin. “Yeah, she might’ve mentioned wanting to do that a couple of times.”

Arthur shifted, his hand landing on Merlin’s shoulder. “Also, Morgana might’ve told me about the offer my father made you. And that you haven’t accepted yet.”

“Oh,” Merlin said. “That.”

“Merlin, you have to take the job. It would be completely insane for you to turn it down.”

Merlin sighed, turning and leaning a hip against the counter. “I know. I’ve been thinking about it.”

“Why on earth wouldn’t you take it?”

Merlin gave him a pointed look. Arthur grabbed his other arm and shook him gently.

“Not because of me, Merlin. I’m an idiot. You’re brilliant.”

“Would’ve been nice to hear that a few months ago.”

Arthur leaned forward slowly, resting his forehead against Merlin’s. “I know. But I came all the way here to find you. Doesn’t that at least make up for it a little?”

“No,” Merlin said, allowing the contact because it felt too damn good to push Arthur away. “You’re going to be grovelling for a long, long time.”

“I can grovel.”

At that Merlin did put a hand on Arthur’s chest and push him away. “I mean it, Arthur. You're going to call me a gigantic girl, but that really hurt. I’m not going to just forgive you.”

“I thought we agreed that it wasn’t just me,” Arthur said, still holding onto Merlin. “I wouldn’t mind some grovelling from you, you know. For not trusting me.”

“Yeah, all right,” Merlin said, and before he could do anything else, Arthur pulled him close, wrapping his arms around Merlin’s waist.

Not expecting it, Merlin flailed a bit, unsure what to do with himself. Arthur didn’t loosen his grip, though, and eventually Merlin relaxed into it, letting himself enjoy the oh-so-wonderfully familiar feeling of Arthur pressed closed against him. His magic kicked into a satisfied hum in his chest. He couldn’t help but chuckle.

“What?” Arthur asked, pulling back to look at him.

“My magic,” Merlin said, scrubbing a hand over his face. “For some reason, it appears to like you.”

“Really?” Arthur asked, looking pleased.

“Yeah, I can’t imagine why.”

“Haha,” Arthur said, rolling his eyes. He opened his mouth to continue, paused, and then said, “You’ll tell me about it now, right? I want to know.”

“Yeah,” Merlin said, swallowing against the ache in his throat, “I will.”

He hugged Arthur this time, looping his arms around Arthur’s neck. He didn’t know how much he was ready for, but this, this was all right.

They were interrupted shortly thereafter by the sound of someone clearing their throat. They both turned to see Hunith in the doorway. She gave Arthur an appraising look before looking at her son.

“Is Arthur staying for dinner, then?”

Merlin looked at Arthur, who looked so ridiculously hopeful, and sighed.

“Yeah, I suppose that he is.”


Later that night, when they were lying side by side in Merlin’s bed, Merlin turned his head to look at Arthur.

“How did you know where I was today? I mean, I assume you came to the bakery because you knew I was there.”

Arthur shifted onto his side so he was facing Merlin. It might’ve been a trick of the light, but Merlin thought he looked a bit sheepish. “Your mum.”

“My mum?”

“I came here first,” Arthur said, his fingers coming up to toy with the hem of Merlin’s t-shirt. “I asked her where you were, and she told me she didn’t know, but that she could find out. She disappeared for a bit and then came back and said you’d be at the bakery shortly.”

Merlin sat upright so fast he felt a bit dizzy. “You conspired with my mum? Oh, that traitor,” he said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and making to stand up. Arthur laughed, grabbing him by the back of the shirt.

“It’s nearly midnight,” he said, sounding far too reasonable for Merlin’s liking. “She’s probably asleep.”

“But she’s supposed to be on my side,” Merlin whined. Arthur smiled at him, fond, before tugging him back down until he was tucked into Arthur’s side, his head resting on Arthur’s chest.

“Don’t blame her. No one can resist me.”

“You are a conceited arse.”

“Yeah, but you love me.”

In spite of himself, Merlin smiled. He wasn’t ready to admit it yet, but the stupid prat was right.


15 November 2011

 

“Come on, do it harder.”

Merlin shifted above Percy, trying to get a better angle before pressing down again with all his weight.

“There?”

“A little higher.”

“How about there?”

Percy let out a loud moan. “Yeah, right there. Fuck, that feels good.”

“Do I need to be concerned about what’s going on in here?”

Both Merlin and Percy looked over at the door, where Arthur was standing holding one of Merlin’s boxes. When Merlin had officially accepted Uther’s offer and started working with the club again, they’d tried taking things slowly. It had lasted all of a week--three months later, Arthur asked Merlin to move in with him.

“Yeah, sod off,” he said, trying not to grin. “Can’t you see I’m trying to get some on the side?”

Arthur rolled his eyes, walking toward the sofa where Merlin was kneeling behind Percival, working a kink out of his shoulder. He dropped the box on the floor and plopped down next to them.

“What happened?”

“Percy was moving the sofa and tweaked his shoulder.”

Arthur laughed. “Going soft, eh Perce?”

“What your boyfriend neglected to tell you,” Percy said, grunting as Merlin pressed down again, “is that he was on the sofa when I was moving it.”

Arthur arched an eyebrow at him. “You had him pushing you around the room on the sofa?”

“How else would I know the best spot for it? Getting up and down is tiring work, you know.”

Merlin found the spot where the muscle had strained and dug his thumb in, using his magic to slowly ease the pain and repair the tissue. Arthur, completely aware of what he was doing, watched him, a fond expression on his face. Merlin couldn’t help but marvel at how much Arthur’s attitude toward his magic had changed in a few short months.

He must’ve had a soppy look on his face, because Arthur smirked at him before responding.

“Speaking of tiring work, Gwaine is refusing to carry any more boxes of books. How many did you pack?”

“A few,” Merlin said dismissively, patting Percy on the shoulder. “All done. Is that better?”

Percy rotated his arm a few times, smiling brightly. “Brilliant as always. Those hands of yours, I tell you. Where have you been all my life?”

“Don’t you worry about that,” Arthur cut in, nudging Percy with his foot even as he pulled Merlin closer. “Elyan and I brought up the new bed, but we were having trouble putting it together. Go help him.”

“Yeah, and make sure it’s good and sturdy,” Merlin called after him, laughing as Percy clapped his hands over his ears. His laugh quickly turned into a yawn--they’d been up early to move his things into Arthur’s flat and that had been many hours ago.

“What are you yawning about?” Arthur asked. “You’ve not lifted a single box today, you lazy arse.”

“Look at these arms,” Merlin said, holding them out for inspection. “Do they look like they’d be any help with heavy lifting?”

Arthur eyed them critically. “You’ve got a point, there.”

“Besides, my true talents lie elsewhere.”

“Mmm,” Arthur said, leaning closer. “That they do.”

Merlin grinned, tilting his head to accept the kiss. They were just starting to get into it when they heard a laugh from the doorway.

“Found them,” Elena called back over her shoulder. “They’re snogging on the sofa.”

Gwaine appeared behind her, his long hair pulled back in a messy tail. “Really? You’re going to sit there and snog while we’re doing all the work?”

Elena reached up to tuck a wayward piece of hair behind his ear, a besotted expression on her face. Gwaine took a moment to smile at her before narrowing his gaze on Merlin.

“Come on, up off your arse, Emrys.”

“That’s Dr. Emrys to you,” Merlin said, reluctantly pulling away from Arthur and getting to his feet.

“Shall we have a conversation about titles?” Gwaine asked, pulling Merlin into a headlock as soon as he was within arm’s reach. “Should I remind you of your place, peasant?”

Merlin laughed, trying to extricate himself. He finally succeeded, but only because Arthur came to his aid. He jumped onto Gwaine’s back, forcing him to let go of Merlin so he could defend himself. They wound up on the floor, and from there it was only a matter of time before Percival and Elyan found them.

Deciding that retreat was his wisest option until they got it out of their systems, Merlin escaped to Arthur’s kitchen. He perused Arthur’s takeaway menus, and had just settled on Thai when a very warm and slightly sweaty body draped itself against his back.

“Ew,” he said when Arthur rubbed his damp face on Merlin’s shoulder. “You’re such a pig.”

“Are we ordering food?” Arthur asked, ignoring him. “I’m famished.”

Merlin, however, was distracted by his magic. While it worked on everyone, it’d become especially attuned to Arthur and often sensed things he tried to hide from Merlin.

“Did you hurt yourself?” Merlin asked, shaking Arthur off and turning around to examine him. Arthur rolled his eyes and fended him off before slipping his hands up under the hem of Merlin’s shirt.

“It’s just a scrape. I’m fine.”

“Oh,” Merlin said, letting Arthur distract him. “I’ll take care of it later.”

“What would I do without you?”

“Let’s not find out, hmm?”

“Don't worry,” Arthur said, pulling him close. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”