Merlin looked down at the plain yellow post-it note stuck in the physics book. He rolled his eyes, pulled it off the paper, balled it up and threw it in the trash. It wasn’t the first note he’d found in a book and it certainly wouldn’t be the last and as far as notes went, it was fairly uninventive.
He picked up the heavy archaic textbook, scanned it into the system and frowned when it came up that it was already checked in. Great. Someone pulled an old book off the shelf and tossed it in the return pile.
Merlin wouldn’t put it past someone to do it just to add to his workload.
The physics book was old and dusty and Merlin had to stifle a sneeze when he snapped it shut. It took some effort, but he tossed it on the trolley he would push around the school library to shelve all the books returned that morning.
It was an easy job, quiet, and it filled the hours at the end of the school day that he otherwise would’ve just been studying anyway. He wasn’t the only scholarship student that had been given the opportunity to procure a menial job with the school. He was glad he had ended up in the library. It was better than chasing balls in the gym with Gilli or stuffing envelopes with the headmaster’s secretary with Freya. And Mrs. Geoffries, the librarian, was content with leaving Merlin alone as he performed his tasks. He received a little coin for it too which was nice.
Merlin attended Camelot Academy, a prestigious school in the heart of Albion. He still lived in his home village of Ealdor with his mother so it took quite a bit of effort in the morning for him to get there, but with help from his friend Gwen, the travel time wasn’t too horrible. It was worth it though. Camelot was challenging, different, a blending of disciplines and Merlin loved it, except drama class. That he would have preferred living without.
Bored, Merlin blew out a breath and looked around. He found only a few students at the round tables near the circulation desk, all of them studying and no one he was really friends with. One of them was Arthur Pendragon and he was frowning down at his own homework like it was either particularly difficult or it was trying to eat him.
Merlin had quickly learned that Arthur had two settings; intensely arrogant and intensely boorish. Well, that wasn’t really fair but Merlin had been on the receiving end of Arthur’s sharp conceited tongue since he had first walked into the school on the first day of term and he didn’t feel like being fair. Of course, Merlin also didn’t really know when to shut his own mouth. Merlin had ended up in a headlock and they had both ended up in the headmaster’s office.
Since then they both had decided on ignoring each other in hopes the other would go away.
Well, that wasn’t really true either.
Arthur Pendragon was hard to ignore.
Merlin spied on Arthur through his lashes, watching as he glowered down at his maths book.
Arthur was… Arthur was gorgeous. He had beautiful blue eyes and blond hair and was fit. Merlin had seen him enough times without his shirt on to know the outline of his muscles and though he would never admit it to anyone, not even to Freya, he often thought about him at night when he wanked. Even when Arthur was scowling, which he was currently, Merlin couldn’t deny that if given a chance he’d jump Arthur in a heartbeat, personality be damned.
Merlin blamed his hormones.
He let out a wistful sigh that had Arthur snapping his head up, his eyes narrowed, glaring in Merlin’s direction. Merlin jumped, realized he was staring, and scrambled for his trolley, ducking into the stacks to hide his blush.
After a few moments of pretending to shelve, Merlin peeked around the corner and found that Arthur had left.
It was probably a good thing. Merlin didn’t fancy being teased because he had been caught staring but he couldn’t help but feel bereft. He quite enjoyed looking at Arthur, especially when he wasn’t talking.
Merlin checked the time and hurried through the rest of his duties before the bell rang. He didn’t want to miss his ride with Gwen and be forced to take the bus home, or even worse, have to walk.
He gave the physics book one last suspicious glance before leaving the library.
Merlin firmly believed the cafeteria was a special kind of hell.
It was loud and crowded and more often than not, Merlin found himself bumping into someone or sprawled out on the floor. He wasn’t the most graceful, even at his best, but it also didn’t help when people would kick their bags in his way purposefully. He always tried to give Valiant’s table a wide berth because it happened around him more often than not but it wasn’t always possible.
That day, however, Merlin made it to his table with Gilli and Freya, food and footing intact.
“Merlin,” Freya said, when he dropped his tray down, “what did you get for number twenty-one?”
They had a quiz in history earlier and Freya was always that girl that had to review every question and answer afterward to calculate her grade.
Merlin cocked his head to the side. “1836,” he answered.
Freya sputtered. “But… but… that question didn’t even call for a year.”
“He’s teasing you, Freya,” Gilli said, biting into his sandwich.
“Oh,” she said, color rising in her cheeks. “I hate when you do that, Merlin.”
Gwen plopped her tray down, joining them and settled in between Merlin and Freya. She looked a little harried but Gwen was one of those people who always smiled, even if everything was falling apart around her. Sometimes she sat with them and other times she sat with Lancelot at Arthur’s table. Today though, Lancelot looked to be out.
“Hey, Gwen,” Merlin greeted. “Where’s Lance?”
Gwen smiled and pushed a wayward strand of hair from her face. “Studying in the library. Merlin, we really need to talk about our drama project.”
Merlin winced. “I know.”
“We need to practice.”
“I know, I just… Gwen, I’m going to do horribly if we practice or not.”
Gwen frowned. “Oh, Merlin. We’ll do the best we can.”
“Gwen,” Merlin groaned. “I am awkward at the best of times and you… well, you ramble when you’re nervous.”
Gwen blushed. “I know but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to try.”
Merlin pulled a face, thinking about everyone in his drama class who would be watching them utterly fail. Valiant being one of them and as much as his friends told Merlin to ignore him, it was hard to when Valiant had made it his life mission to make Merlin’s time at school a living hell. It had never moved beyond the occasional trip and the constant teasing but it was enough to make Merlin feel humiliated.
Merlin didn’t even want to think about Arthur being in the class as well. Not that Arthur would be paying much attention anyway - who would to the library geek? - but Merlin knew that it would be difficult to forget he was there.
Merlin groaned again and hid behind his hands. “This is going to be a disaster,” he muttered.
“Just think,” Gwen said brightly, “either we’ll cock it all up or we’ll be so brilliant that Mr. Kilgharrah will cast us as the leads in the spring musical and we’ll become famous actors.”
There was a beat of silence as Merlin dropped his hands and looked at Gwen with a raised eyebrow. Then he threw back his head and laughed. Gwen joined in, as did Freya and Gilli, and soon, they were all roaring. Merlin had tears streaming down his cheeks and his arms wrapped around his aching middle. Each time they settled down, Gwen only had to look at Merlin, or Merlin’s lips would twitch and they would set off again. By the end of it, Merlin was sure that they had made a right spectacle of themselves.
“By the way, Merlin,” Gwen said once lunch time was over and they were walking to class, “why was Arthur staring at us all during lunch?”
Merlin shrugged. “He was probably wondering why you were sitting with us and not them.”
Gwen made a face. “No, I don’t think that was it.”
Merlin blushed, suddenly remembering being caught staring at Arthur in the library a few days prior while thinking of wanking. He shifted uncomfortably. “Well,” he said, “we were laughing rather loudly.”
Gwen nodded. “That must have been it.”
Merlin swallowed and let the subject drop.
Merlin found it in another book that had not been checked out but had ended up on the return shelf. It was another note with some romantic sentiment.
Merlin considered it, peeled it out of a well-worn copy of 1001 Knock-Knock Jokes, and held it up between his fingers.
It was simple yellow post-it, just like the other one, and Merlin suddenly wished he had kept the first so he could compare the handwriting.
Merlin set it down gently next to him on the desk. While he worked, his gaze kept drifting to the side, eyeing the note like it could tell him something, like its origin or its intended recipient.
Could it be for him?
It seemed preposterous but… two notes in one week.
Was someone taking books off the shelves, sticking a note in them and putting them where he could find them?
Merlin couldn’t help smiling at the thought. Maybe… maybe, someone actually liked him. It was a nice fantasy since Merlin didn’t think anyone capable. He loved his friends but it was obvious that Freya and Gilli were moving toward a relationship and Gwen was already with Lance. That left Merlin the odd man out. It was lonely so it was lovely to think that maybe someone did find him gorgeous.
Or maybe someone was playing a horrible practical joke. The smile dropped from Merlin’s face and the warmth that had built in his stomach turned to ice as he looked back at the note, eyes narrowed, assessing.
He picked it up and slipped it into his pocket.
He’d think about it more later.
It was Tuesday.
Merlin hated Tuesdays especially this Tuesday since it was the Tuesday to end all Tuesdays.
It was his and Gwen’s turn to present their drama project.
Merlin was a ball of nervous energy as they waited for Mr. Kilgharrah to call their names to the stage.
They had been assigned a scene from Romeo and Juliet, the one with the kissing. They had practiced over the weekend but Lance had been watching and Merlin couldn’t bring himself to kiss Gwen. She had pitied him, patted his cheek while he blushed a brilliant red, and said that it would come to him the day of the performance.
It had been humiliating.
And the thing was… well, Merlin hadn’t kissed anyone before. He was seventeen years old and hadn’t yet reached that teenage milestone and it was kind of pathetic and he didn’t want Gwen to know and…
He was fucked.
They were called to the stage, Gwen looking nervous and Merlin clamping down on the butterflies about to erupt from his stomach. He risked a glance to the audience and Arthur was there, sitting in the front row, looking beautiful as always and staring at the stage expectantly.
Merlin was going to be sick.
Mr. Kilgharrah addressed the class.
“Merlin and Gwen will be performing a scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.”
Valiant burst out laughing. “I think Merlin would prefer Romeo and Julian.”
That earned a round of snickers and Merlin wanted the stage to swallow him. Mr. Kilgharrah admonished Valiant but that didn’t stop the titters from Sophia and Vivian and the rest of the girls.
“Quiet,” Mr. Kilgharrah said to the class. He turned to Merlin and Gwen, smiling gently. “Begin.”
Merlin stumbled through the first few lines but was glad he didn’t vomit. Gwen wasn’t much better, her voice wavering, but as the scene progressed they both felt a little more assured, their voices coming out stronger.
It wasn’t completely horrible until it was time for the kiss.
“Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take. Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged,” Merlin said, stepping closer to Gwen.
She smiled sweetly. “Then have my lips the sin that they have took.”
Merlin lowered his voice. “Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!” Then he ducked in for the kiss.
Except, Gwen over calculated, thinking Merlin would hesitate, and she surged forward. They knocked noses, hard, and Merlin’s lips landed on Gwen’s chin.
Merlin could hear the laughter coming from the crowd, knew he was blushing so hard his ears were red. Gwen let out a soft “oh” of surprise and, still entangled with Merlin, stepped forward for some inexplicable reason. Her shoulder went into Merlin’s chest, and Merlin, off-balance anyway, went toppling backwards.
He landed on his arse with a thud.
The audience roared.
“Aww,” Valiant said over the crowd. “Looks like poor Merlin still hasn’t been kissed.”
Merlin sat on his arse, on the stage, shocked for a few moments, wondering how the hell Valiant knew. It took a solid minute for Merlin to realize that Valiant didn’t and it was only a taunt but it still shook him, down to his core. He scrambled to his feet after being tugged on by Gwen and they both fled from the stage, the last lines of the scene forgotten.
Once off, Gwen buried her face in her hands and left the room, Freya on her heels to console her.
Of course, Merlin couldn’t do that, as much as he wanted to. Amidst the cackles, Merlin slunk to his seat, and slid down in hopes he would disappear.
Gilli patted him on the shoulder in sympathy and Merlin buried his face in his arms. The class continued, Mr. Kilgharrah calling Morgana and Leon but Merlin didn’t pay attention, kept himself buried in the familiar feel of his hoodie.
Toward the end of class, Merlin risked a peek around the room. Valiant and Sophia were passing notes and chuckling, probably about Merlin. Everyone else seemed engrossed in an assignment. Merlin turned his head slightly and found that Arthur was looking over his shoulder, staring at him.
Merlin blushed and made like an ostrich.
He stayed that way until the end of class.
The rest of the day was horrible. Gwen wasn’t talking to Merlin, probably because she was embarrassed. She sat with Lance at lunch and he had his arm draped over her shoulder and they kissed and kissed.
Merlin picked at his food and endured the giggles of girls as they walked by. Nim even offered to help Merlin get rid of his pesky virginity. Freya had chased her off with a glare and Merlin decided that he wanted to die.
“It’s not that bad,” Freya said. “It will blow over.”
Gilli was less sure. “It might blow over by the summer.”
Merlin made it through the rest of the day and was happy to find solace in the library. No one else was in there, save for Mrs. Geoffries, and she was busy working on the archaic computer.
Merlin absently picked up the return books and scanned them in until... the old copy of Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t scan.
Merlin’s heart raced. He quickly flipped through it and sure enough, there was a plain yellow post-it.
He peeled the post-it out of the book, reverently, like it was the most fragile parchment in the world. He laid it to the side of his work station and stole a quick glance at Mrs. Geoffries. Satisfied that she wasn’t looking, Merlin grabbed his bag and pulled out his planner. He flipped it open and on the front page was the other note. He compared them.
It was the same handwriting.
And after the events of the day, it had to be for him.
There was someone that liked him.
Or was pranking him but after the disaster that was drama class, he was going to go with the former.
It made him feel better.
Merlin pressed the third post-it into his planner, right next to the second, again wishing he had saved the first.
He ran his fingers over the words, felt the impressions left by the pen, and was instantly warmed. Merlin looked up, spied that some students had made their way into the library and flipped his planner closed. Those notes were for him and him alone.
He put the planner into his bag and went back to shelving and despite the horridness of the morning, he had a smile on his face.
That night, after telling his mum about the drama project once she came home from work and after eating the cookies she made to cheer him up, Merlin lay in bed, and tentatively touched his fingertips to his lips, thinking about his mystery person.
He wished he knew who it was. He wished he could send them a note and let them know that he thought about what it would be like to kiss them too.
Mainly though, he wished he could just tell them thank you for making him feel wanted.
Merlin made it through the week somehow. By Friday, the rumors of his supposed (and true but no one needed to know that) virginity had dwindled somewhat but he could still hear the whispers and it was still mortifying.
Merlin’s mum had to work Saturday and he didn’t feel like spending all day at home alone so he packed his things and headed to his favorite coffee shop. It was a small place near school and one of the baristas, a bloke named Gwaine, always gave Merlin free coffee.
Merlin sat at a corner table, steaming mug in front of him, laptop on the table where he half-heartedly worked on schoolwork while playing Minecraft. He stayed for a few hours, sipping coffee and then buying a sandwich. It was shaping up to be a good day when the bell above the café door rang and Gwen entered followed by Lance and Arthur.
Merlin tried to slip down into his seat but despite his best attempts at going unnoticed, Gwen immediately saw him and waved excitedly, wide grin splitting her face in two. He watched as the three ordered and wandered over to sit with him.
“Hello, Merlin,” Gwen said, all smiles as she took a seat to his left. Lance sat next to her leaving, Arthur to sit just to Merlin’s right.
“Hi, Merlin,” Lance said with a nod.
Merlin liked Lance. He was always nice even when he didn’t have to be since he was on the footie team and very high up in the social ladder. He didn’t lord it over everyone though. Not like Arthur did and certainly not like Valiant.
“I hope we’re not disturbing you,” Lance said, gesturing to Merlin’s laptop.
Arthur’s eyes narrowed and craned his neck to see the screen. Merlin snapped it shut in a gangly flurry of movement. It was a wonder he didn’t knock over his own drink in the process.
Arthur smirked. “With a reaction like that, one would think you were watching porn.”
Merlin spluttered, face turning red. “I wouldn’t… not in public… I mean….”
Arthur burst out laughing, head thrown back, Adam’s apple bobbing and looking entirely too gorgeous for such an arse.
Gwen was giving Arthur her best admonishing look (Merlin knew it well) and Lance was trying not to chuckle while Arthur laughed like a donkey, in Merlin’s opinion.
Merlin, flustered by Arthur’s presence, contemplated packing up his things and walking out but he was stopped by Gwaine’s smooth voice.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
Arthur abruptly stopped laughing and eyed Gwaine, as did Merlin.
Gwaine stood there two cups of coffee in his hands, looking stunningly scruffy and sporting a rakish grin.
“Not at all,” Merlin said.
Gwaine smiled and set one of the full cups in front of Merlin before pulling over an extra chair.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends, Merlin?” he asked, settling in the seat and knocking his elbow into Merlin’s side.
Merlin smiled, glad for Gwaine’s interference.
“This is Gwen, Lance and Arthur. This is Gwaine, my caffeine supplier.”
Gwen and Lance politely said hello. Arthur looked like he was sucking on a lemon and crossed his arms, glaring. Merlin knew that Arthur was a bit of a bastard but his outright dislike of Gwaine was unwarranted, even for him.
Gwaine merely laughed and swung a friendly arm over Merlin’s shoulders, jostling him a bit. Merlin relaxed under the touch, his mortification about Arthur’s porn comment melting away with Gwaine’s easy demeanor.
“Yes, I give Merlin coffee and he proofreads my uni work. Smart one, he is,” Gwaine said, ruffling Merlin’s hair.
Merlin batted him away and blushed. “It’s worth it for the coffee.”
Gwaine nudged Merlin with his shoulder and gestured to the fresh cup in front of him. “Go on then, don’t want it getting cold.”
Merlin was well aware of everyone looking at him as he picked up the mug and held it to his lips. He took a sip, his eyes fluttering shut at the rich taste and the warmth and he couldn’t help the little moan that escaped.
“That’s brilliant,” he said, opening his eyes and smiling. “The best coffee this side of the city.”
Merlin looked around the table. Lance looked uncomfortable. Gwen’s gaze was flicking between Merlin and Gwaine, and Arthur was so red Merlin half-expected steam to come out of his ears.
“Thank you, Merlin,” Gwaine said easily. “So, what are the plans for the day?”
Gwen jumped on the subject. “Well, the three of us were going to go see a film. Merlin, do you want to join us?”
“Aren’t you a little old to be flirting with a seventeen year old?” Arthur asked suddenly, posture tense, arms still crossed, giving Gwaine a hard look.
“Ah,” Gwaine said, still smiling, removing his arm from Merlin’s shoulders, “I see how it is, now.”
Merlin tensed. “See how what is?” he demanded.
Gwaine flipped his hair, a move that Merlin had seen him do to charm the female customers and patted Merlin on the arm. “Merlin, have a nice time with your friends. My break is over anyway.”
Gwaine stood, gathering Merlin’s empty mug and plate from earlier and his own still steaming cup.
“No, wait, you just sat down. You don’t have to go,” Merlin said. “Just because Arthur is…”
“Just because I’m a what, Merlin?” Arthur challenged as Gwaine slipped away, giving Merlin a sly smile.
Merlin glared at Arthur. “An arse. You’re an arse.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “And you’re an idiot.”
Frustrated and angry, Merlin packed his things, throwing his notebook and pens into his bag. “You didn’t need to sit here if you were just going to be a prat.”
“Oh, and you were fine sitting here alone,” Arthur answered.
Merlin looked up from where he was trying to shove his laptop in as well. “Yes,” he said vehemently.
Arthur looked surprised at the force in Merlin’s tone and maybe, if Merlin were honest with himself, a tad contrite. Merlin didn’t care. He was livid.
“You know,” he said standing, looping the strap of his satchel over his shoulder, “I have to take shit from pricks like you and Valiant at school. I shouldn’t have to on the weekend.” Merlin cast Gwen a glance, almost having forgotten she was there. “See you later, Gwen.”
Then he stormed out.
Merlin made it halfway down the sidewalk toward the bus stop when he heard someone running up behind him.
“Merlin!” Arthur called. “Wait!”
Merlin didn’t stop and it was only Arthur’s hand on his elbow and sharp tug that kept him from breaking into a sprint to outrun the irritation and confusion welling in his chest.
Arthur managed to spin him around and Merlin ripped his arm from Arthur’s grasp.
“Fuck! Merlin, would you just hold still a minute?” Arthur said, making a grab for Merlin’s arm again as he tried to walk away.
“Why? So you can tease me about something else?”
“No!” Arthur answered.
Merlin finally glimpsed at Arthur.
Arthur looked unhappy. His mouth was turned down and his brow was furrowed. His expression was as frustrated as Merlin felt, though Merlin couldn’t fathom why. It wasn’t like Merlin had done anything to him.
“Then what, Arthur?” Merlin asked, exasperated.
Arthur was uncomfortable, shifting on his feet as he thrust a to-go cup filled with coffee in Merlin’s direction. His hair was disheveled from running and he was squinting in the sunlight.
“Your friend wanted me to give this to you.”
Merlin took the hot coffee from Arthur’s hand. “And you felt that warranted chasing me down?”
“No… yes…. What do you want me to say?”
Merlin took a step back, eyebrow raised. He had very limited experience with Arthur Pendragon, other than their first meeting and the occasional gawking on Merlin’s part, so this agitated person in front of him was… unexpected.
“I don’t know. Sorry might be a good start.”
Arthur ran an agitated hand through his hair. “Fine, sorry for being a prat as you put it.”
Merlin sighed, deflating. “Apology accepted,” he replied, voice low. “Can I go now?”
“Does Valiant really give you a hard time at school?” Arthur asked, stepping forward into Merlin’s space.
Merlin laughed. “Really? Do you even go to the same school?”
Arthur appeared troubled, the lines in his brow becoming deeper. “Does he bother you that much?”
“Only constantly,” Merlin retorted, and that was when he realized that Arthur was staring intently at him, like he was sorry and Merlin… Merlin realized that Arthur was concerned over him.
Suddenly, Merlin felt like he was on a rollercoaster, falling over the first huge drop, his stomach at his knees. For some reason, he felt like he needed to placate Arthur, reassure him that it was okay, even if it wasn’t.
“It’s not that bad,” Merlin said with a forced shrug and air of nonchalance. “The occasional trip, some mocking, nothing big.”
“He shouldn’t touch you,” Arthur murmured.
“What was that?” Merlin asked, voice high, incredulous.
Arthur shook himself. “Come to the film with us.”
Merlin looked past Arthur’s shoulder; saw Gwen and Lance standing in front of the coffee shop, hands clasped, gazing into each other’s eyes. He shuddered.
“No, thank you.”
Arthur grimaced. “You’re going to doom me with an afternoon of them,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder, “even after I apologized?”
“Have fun?” Merlin offered.
Arthur laughed. He gave Merlin’s shoulder a friendly push. “Fine, then. See you around, Merlin.”
“Yeah, see you,” Merlin answered but Arthur was already walking away, jogging back over to where Gwen and Lance stood.
Merlin watched him go, stomach fluttering and as confused as ever.
Monday found Merlin in an odd mood. He was excited about the prospect of potentially finding another note from his mystery person but he was conflicted about Arthur and his strange behavior over the weekend.
It seemed the rest of the school was affected as well. Valiant stayed well away from him and Arthur kept casting glances in his direction that weren’t at all discreet.
Arthur walked with him from drama to the cafeteria and they enjoyed a stilted conversation. And to top things off, Gwen and Lance both sat with him, Freya and Gilli at lunch.
Merlin felt like he was sleepwalking or he had fallen down the rabbit hole and was in some kind of surreal alternate reality.
It was kind of nice.
In the library, Merlin found a copy of Tropic of Cancer. He didn’t even know that the library had it and when it wouldn’t scan in, his heart leapt into his throat. He flipped through it and found the yellow note.
That night, after dinner, he feigned being tired and went to his room. Under the covers, he pulled out his cock and furiously wanked while biting his lip to keep his noises down.
As he finished and painted his stomach with come, he permitted himself one low moan and wished his admirer was there to hear it.
Merlin didn’t expect another note so soon after the last one but there it was, in between the pages of Pride and Prejudice.
His hand trembled as he peeled it off.
He had wished to meet the person that thought enough of him to leave anonymous notes and say things that no one had said to him before. Merlin yearned to meet them and that was something that so many weeks ago he would’ve laughed at himself for thinking.
Of course, it could all be one elaborate prank.
Merlin frowned, heart thumping so hard in his chest at the thought he was for sure it would break if it were true. He took a breath, willing his thoughts away from that possibility and tried to think positive.
They wanted to reveal themselves.
Merlin went weak in the knees and had to find a chair. He thumped down in it, put his head in his hands, the note crinkling gently by his ear and tried to calm down his racing pulse.
He dithered over whether to tell Gwen or Freya because they could give him advice. But, it seemed wrong, like Merlin would be betraying a secret. And to be honest, Merlin wanted to keep it to himself and be selfish for once.
He sank a little lower, put his head close to his knees because he was feeling a bit nauseated.
“Merlin, are you alright?”
Merlin jerked up and back so fast at the sound of Arthur’s voice, he tipped the chair backward. He landed hard on the ground, the back of his head smacking on the carpet.
“Merlin!” Arthur yelled, earning a fierce glare from Mrs. Geoffries. He hurried to Merlin’s side as Merlin struggled to right himself in the least awkward way as possible. “Are you alright?” Arthur asked, tone softer as to not incur librarian wrath.
Merlin shoved the note into his pocket.
“I’m fine,” he grumbled. “Just dusting the floor.”
Arthur chuckled as he grabbed Merlin’s arm and hauled him to standing.
“How about earlier? You looked ill.”
Merlin shrugged, the note in his pocket feeling like a hot poker against his hip.
“Anxious,” Merlin replied.
Arthur made his concerned face again and Merlin swore his stomach actually flipped.
“I hope everything is alright,” Arthur said. He reached out and gave Merlin’s shoulder a squeeze.
Merlin swallowed. “Everything is fine.”
Arthur smiled then, one of his wide, bright smiles that showed all his teeth and was capable of making anyone swoon.
“Good,” he said with a nod. “See you around, then.”
“See you,” Merlin managed.
Merlin put his hand in his pocket and fingered the note as he watched Arthur saunter from the library.
And then, there was Arthur. Arthur who had suddenly gone from someone that Merlin ignored on the surface but lusted after in private to a casual acquaintance who Merlin still lusted after in private but also now had a personality under the gorgeous exterior. Arthur who had talked to Merlin more in the past week than he had the entire previous term and who was now miraculously showing up when Merlin needed something. Arthur who was proving himself to be kind and funny and… this was an absolute mess.
Merlin had a secret admirer who wanted to meet him and Merlin had a crush on Arthur Pendragon.
The next day, Merlin took care with getting ready for school. He made sure his hair was artfully messy instead of just messy. He made an effort with his clothes, making sure they were clean and not ripped anywhere.
It was exciting and nerve-wracking but Merlin was determined to swallow down his nausea and meet the situation head on. He decided to put away all the ‘what ifs’ and concentrate on the things he knew; his mystery person liked him, thought he was gorgeous, wanted to kiss him and make him moan.
Merlin floated through the morning, holding onto the good thoughts and banishing the unhelpful ones. Freya and Gilli gave him odd looks when he smiled a little too wide or blushed a little too easily. Gwen merely raised an eyebrow when Merlin told her he would be staying after school and would take the bus home instead of his normal ride with her.
Arthur stopped him in the hallway between classes and gave him a once over, his hand on Merlin’s shoulder.
“You look different today,” he said with a nod. “Big plans?”
Merlin felt himself flush, wondering when Arthur decided to become so tactile. “No,” he answered. “Nothing like that.”
Arthur smiled and gave Merlin a firm pat on the back as he passed. “Well then, you look nice.”
Merlin was bewildered. Arthur had paid him a compliment. “Thanks?”
Arthur merely chuckled and waved over his shoulder as he headed to class leaving Merlin stunned and more confused than ever.
By lunch, Merlin was a bundle of nerves. He chalked up his weird interaction with Arthur to Arthur just being Arthur. At least, that was what he was telling himself because he couldn’t bear the thought of anything beyond that.
Merlin was working so hard on focusing on not thinking about Arthur and remaining calm in the face of his imminent meeting with his admirer that he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings.
As such, Merlin bumped right into Valiant.
The open coke on his lunch tray toppled to the floor and splashed all over Valiant’s trouser leg.
Merlin had enough time to gasp a surprised “oh!” before Valiant was knocking the tray out of his hands to the floor.
“What the fuck, Merlin?” Valiant yelled.
Merlin took a step back, holding up his hands and trying not to slip in the mess on the floor. “Sorry, I wasn’t looking…”
“You think because you have Pendragon’s protection you can run into me?” Valiant demanded.
“I didn’t…” Merlin answered, reeling over Valiant’s inadvertent revelation and quite frankly, terrified of what was going to happen next.
Valiant closed the small distance between them. “Are you calling me a liar?”
Quick as a snake, Valiant reached out and grabbed Merlin by the back of his neck. He kicked Merlin’s feet out from under him hard and Merlin went slamming to the ground into the remains of his lunch.
Merlin’s nose connected first, then his forehead, and pain bloomed so quick and so hot it burned, making his eyes water instantly. He could feel the slow, thick slide of blood oozing down his face and Valiant’s weight on the back of his neck, holding him down.
For an awful second, Merlin panicked as he tried to suck in a breath, inhaling Coke instead and he coughed and sputtered, hands trying to find purchase on the smooth, slick floor beneath him to try and push up, do anything other than lie there and choke in a puddle of soda.
Then suddenly, the weight was off of him, and there was shouting and Freya and Lance were there helping him to his knees.
Merlin risked a glance to his left and saw Arthur and Valiant locked in a brutal fight before the rest of the student body surrounded the combatants and Arthur was lost to Merlin’s sight by a wall of legs.
Freya pressed a napkin to Merlin’s trembling hand. “Hold this to your nose,” she said softly.
Merlin did and winced from pain. He was shaking, feeling the adrenaline flee his system, leaving him a shuddering, sweating mess. He could still hear the shouts in his periphery but he felt dazed, unsteady.
“Arthur?” Merlin asked, softly.
Lance craned his neck. “He has it under control, Merlin. Gwen ran to the headmaster,” Lance said, casting glances behind him, reassuring Merlin that the fight would be broken up soon.
“Can you stand?” Freya asked, gently.
Between the three of them Merlin made it to his feet but swayed dangerously, the cafeteria spinning slowly around him. Lance gripped his arm firmly to keep him standing.
“I’m dizzy,” Merlin moaned, holding a hand to his head and bringing it away bloody.
“I’ll take him to the nurse,” Lance told Freya. “You should stay here and check on Gilli.”
“Gilli?” Merlin asked.
Freya beamed. “He jumped in just as Arthur did.”
“Oh,” Merlin said, still overcome. “Thank him for me, will you?”
“I will,” Freya assured.
Lance guided Merlin away. As they slowly crossed the cafeteria, Merlin noticed that the student body had all returned to their seats. The headmaster was standing between a furious Valiant, who was bleeding from a cut over his eye, and Arthur, whose ripped shirt and red face were the only indication he’d been in a fight at all.
It suddenly began to sink in that Arthur had fought for him and if possible, it made Merlin even more lightheaded than before.
The nurse had declared Merlin’s nose badly bruised. He had a painful knot on his leg from where Valiant kicked him, a black eye forming and a cut on his cheek from the tray, but other than that, he was fine.
The headmaster had come to collect Merlin’s side of the story which he gladly told. He learned from Freya, who had come to visit him while he was in the nurse’s office, that Valiant, Arthur and Gilli had not returned to classes after the fight. Merlin grimaced, hoping that Arthur and Gilli wouldn’t be in too much trouble for stepping in.
The administration wanted to call his mother to collect him but Merlin claimed she was unavailable at work and despite the mess that was his face, Merlin didn’t want to jeopardize his meeting with his secret admirer. Whoever it was surely they would know about the fight that occurred during lunch and would excuse Merlin’s disheveled appearance.
Merlin fidgeted in the nurse’s office, allowed to miss classes and rest until the end of the school day. His stomach was a fluttering jumble as the time on the clock ticked away. Before he knew it, he was gathering his things and walking to room 105.
Merlin swallowed down the lump in his throat and hesitantly pushed open the door.
The room was empty.
Merlin let out a breath and checked the clock. It was still a few minutes early and maybe his person was more the punctual type.
Merlin settled in a chair and pulled out a book he pretended to read while he watched the clock.
At five minutes past, Merlin’s heart began to sink. At ten minutes, Merlin tried to come up with plausible excuses. At twenty minutes, Merlin buried his head in his book and tried not to think about it.
An hour later, Merlin packed up his things.
He felt physically ill and he doubted it had much to do with his encounter with Valiant only a few hours before.
Merlin had always felt slightly lonely. He had no father and a mother who worked constantly to make sure he had everything he needed. He only had a few friends and never had a boyfriend. It had never bothered him before. He accepted that was the way it was and moved on.
But he never felt loneliness more keenly than at that moment when he slunk out of the classroom, bruised and aching, heartbroken. Maybe, maybe it had really been a prank and the thought hurt Merlin, deep down in his chest, and he was half-suspecting a gaggle of people waiting outside the door to delight in his misery.
But there was no one, for which Merlin was grateful. It was a minuscule comfort in the midst of the worst day of his life.
He kept his head down, bag looped over one shoulder. He had missed his ride with Gwen and he would probably miss the bus which left him with a long walk home.
Merlin pushed open the door to the courtyard and literally ran into Arthur bounding up the steps.
Of course, Merlin fell back on his arse onto the concrete, palms scraping across ground.
“Fuck!” Arthur yelled, crouching next to Merlin. “Are you okay?”
Merlin looked down at his bleeding palm and then up to Arthur, who was panting like he had been running somewhere only to bump into Merlin.
Merlin’s chest squeezed, his eyes beginning to sting with tears. He bit his lip, worried it between his teeth because he wasn’t going to cry in front of Arthur. He wasn’t.
“Merlin?” Arthur asked gently, when Merlin didn’t respond right away. “Hey,” he said, sitting on the steps next to where Merlin sprawled. “Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Merlin took a shuddering breath and shook his head. It was too much. Arthur was being nice and his nose hurt and his admirer didn’t show and…
Merlin quickly wiped at his eyes.
“I’m fine,” he said, his voice rough with unshed tears.
Arthur pursed his lips but thankfully didn’t say anything.
Merlin realized that Arthur must have just been leaving the headmaster’s office. He grimaced, thinking of all the time Arthur had been in there and that he really should thank him.
Merlin took another breath. “Thank you. I heard what you did.”
Arthur huffed, gave Merlin a hard look before reaching out and tracing his finger over Merlin’s cut cheek and Merlin did his best not to flinch away or lean into the touch. Both would be mortifying on an already bleak day.
“I wish I had been quicker,” Arthur said before looking away and dropping his hand. “You’re going to have a black eye.”
“I’ll live,” Merlin answered. “I hope you didn’t get into too much trouble.”
Arthur shrugged. “Suspended for a few days. Valiant was expelled. Gilli was suspended for a day.”
Merlin nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“For God’s sake, why, Merlin? It wasn’t your fault Valiant was a prick.”
Merlin shrunk in on himself, feeling too fragile, too exposed. “Thank you.”
Arthur patted Merlin’s shoulder, almost tentatively. “I need to go home. My father is going to be furious.”
Merlin sighed. “I do too. It’s a long walk.”
Arthur’s expression told Merlin what he thought of that idea. “You’re not walking,” he said. “That is absurd. I’ll drive you home.”
“You’ve done enough.”
“Shut up, Merlin. It wasn’t a request.”
The way Arthur said it, his tone dripping with his normal superiority, was a comfort in an otherwise tumultuous day. It made Merlin smile.
The ride to Merlin’s house was quiet.
Arthur’s car was warm and comfortable and Merlin was exhausted. He snuggled down into the seat, his eyelids heavy. He slipped into a light doze.
When Arthur pulled in front of Merlin’s house, Merlin roused.
“Thanks,” he said groggily.
Arthur smiled but Merlin saw his nearly imperceptible wince when he looked at Merlin’s face. Merlin knew he must look absolutely horrible.
“I’ll see you in a week,” Arthur said.
Merlin nodded. “In a week. Bye, Arthur.”
Arthur made some kind of aborted movement that ended up an awkward wave. Merlin exited the car and waved back before he headed inside.
Once his mum saw his face, she made him stay home for the rest of the week and called the headmaster absolutely livid. Freya and Gilli brought him his homework and Gwen and Lance came to visit after school a few days.
Merlin allowed himself to be a little extra moody during his confinement at home and if everyone thought it had to do with the Valiant incident, he didn’t correct them.
The fact though was that Merlin was unable to check at the library for any notes. Not that it mattered. He was hurt and furious and he decided to give up on the idea that there was someone out there that secretly pined for him.
The only good part of him being home for most of the week was that at least when we went back, Arthur would only have a few more days of his suspension.
The first day Arthur was allowed back to school, he was welcomed like a conquering hero. Merlin kept his distance, waited until everyone else had finished fawning over him before he approached.
“Hey,” Merlin said nervously, shoulders hunched.
Arthur turned away from where he had been talking with Leon and smiled. “Merlin!” he crowed. “You’re looking better.”
Merlin self-consciously touched the thin skin around his eye. It wasn’t purple anymore but had faded to sickly yellow-green. At least the swelling around his nose had gone down. “Yeah, thanks.”
“Good to see you.”
“Yeah, um… glad to have you back, Arthur.”
Arthur’s smile was brilliant. Merlin couldn’t help but return it.
The whole time Arthur had been absent, Merlin hadn’t heard from his admirer. He had decided that they either weren’t interested after the embarrassing fight in the cafeteria or that it actually had been a prank by Valiant who couldn’t follow through since he had spent the rest of the day in the headmaster’s office. Both options made Merlin sad and ache in the hollow of his stomach but it was also a little freeing. He wasn’t searching for notes any longer and all the worry that had accompanied his secret had lifted.
So it was with utter surprise that Merlin found another note within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.
The next day went much as the last. Merlin had more strange but friendly interactions with Arthur and life continued, much easier in fact, now that Valiant was gone.
The day seemed to fly by and before Merlin knew it he was back in the library.
When The Count of Monte Cristo wouldn’t scan in, Merlin inwardly groaned. He had done very well not thinking about the post-its all day.
He flipped through the book and sighed.
He sighed. Maybe it was time to seek some advice.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell us this before,” Freya whispered fervently over the lunch table.
Merlin flinched. Though no one would guess it due to her small frame and shy demeanor, Freya was frightening when she was angry.
Gilli looked amused. “Now you’ve done it, Merlin.”
“It was just some notes,” Merlin answered, deflating. “And it’s done now except, you know, the whole asking forgiveness part.”
“Let me get this straight,” Freya said. “Someone has been leaving you notes,” she began ticking off on her fingers. “Suggestive notes.”
“Only one was suggestive. The others were sweet.”
She raised an eyebrow and Gilli quickly took a bite of his sandwich to keep from snickering.
“Fine. Sweet messages,” she started again. “Asked for you to meet except the same day as the… incident and they didn’t show. And now after a week of silence, they’ve sent you two new notes asking for forgiveness and you’re conflicted.”
“I’m not conflicted,” Merlin snapped back. “I’m… well… I am conflicted but I don’t know about what.”
Gilli looked confused. “Explain,” he said.
Merlin sighed, and covered his face with his hands not wanting to see his friends’ reactions. “Arthur,” he answered, miserably.
“You mean that he jumped in and risked bruises to his pretty face or the fact that all of sudden he is your best friend,” Freya said.
Merlin dropped his hands to the table, looked down at his bowl of soup and stirred absently. “He’s not my best friend.”
“He drove you home.”
“Gwen drives me every day.”
“And she is your friend. Merlin, did you ever think…”
Freya suddenly stopped, looking over Merlin’s shoulder, mouth agape. Gilli startled, almost dropping his sandwich.
“Mind if I join you?”
Merlin craned his neck backwards to see Arthur standing with a tray of food and looking decidedly uncomfortable.
“Yeah, sure. I mean, no, we don’t mind. I mean, um… sit.”
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Arthur said, settling into the chair next to Merlin.
Merlin shook his head. “No, nothing, we were just talking…”
“Merlin has an admirer,” Gilli blurted.
“Gilli!” Merlin hissed.
Arthur merely smirked and gave Merlin an assessing look. “An admirer,” he drawled. “Really?”
Merlin wanted to bang his head against the table. He settled for shooting Gilli a look that he hoped conveyed both his embarrassment and exasperation.
“It’s nothing,” Merlin muttered.
“It seems to be something,” Arthur said, elbowing Merlin in the arm.
Merlin absently rubbed at the spot. “Really, it was just some notes but it’s over now. It was all probably a prank anyway.”
Arthur sputtered and coughed, droplets of water spraying onto the table.
“A prank?” he wheezed. He coughed a few more times and Merlin awkwardly patted Arthur between the shoulder blades. The last thing Merlin needed was for Arthur to asphyxiate and die on the day he decided to grace them with his presence at lunch. Merlin knew he would be to blame and the footie team would never forgive him.
“Breathe, Arthur,” Merlin said, smacking him a bit harder on the back.
Arthur batted him away. He took a moment to regain his composure before pinning Merlin with an intense stare. “A prank?” he repeated. “Why on earth would you think it a prank?”
Merlin shrugged, nervously knotted his fingers together. “Because, come on, Arthur, I’m me,” he said, gesturing to his too skinny frame, his bad haircut, his worn clothes and everything that encompassed being Merlin. It was fairly obvious to himself that no one would be interested.
Arthur’s face turned red and Merlin thought he was going to have another coughing fit.
“You really don’t see yourself clearly, do you?” he asked.
Merlin didn’t know what to make of that so he didn’t say anything. Arthur continued anyway.
“You’re kind and funny and endearingly odd and a little bit gorgeous and anyone would be lucky to have you, even on your clumsy days.”
Merlin’s heart pounded and the butterflies in his stomach reawakened and started dancing a jig. He swallowed a mouthful of Coke, Arthur’s words hanging heavy in the air between them.
“It doesn’t matter,” he reiterated, bringing the discussion back to the admirer and away from the dangerous topic of Arthur’s thoughts on him because, if Merlin were honest with himself, one more compliment and he was going to do something embarrassing that may involve him jumping into Arthur’s lap. Merlin didn’t really need another humiliating incident at school. “Even if all that were true, we were supposed to meet and they didn’t show. So it’s done.”
Arthur’s fingers flexed around his fork. He had a nice salad on his tray that he hadn’t taken a bite of yet and Merlin’s soup had long since gone cold.
“Maybe something came up,” Arthur challenged.
“Maybe they decided it wasn’t worth it.”
“Maybe they tried,” Arthur bit out and Merlin was scared he was going to snap the plastic cafeteria fork in half. “But they couldn’t make it and realized that they had only made things worse.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Merlin said again, annoyed, wondering why Arthur was playing devil’s advocate for this person. “They hurt me and I don’t want anything to do with them.”
Arthur abruptly stood. “I need to go.”
He grabbed his tray and stalked off, throwing everything in the trash and disappearing from the cafeteria in a dramatic exit.
“Drama queen,” Merlin said, looking back over to Gilli and Freya who had remained quiet during the exchange.
They were both gaping.
“He’s such an arse,” Merlin commented.
Freya shook her head and Gilli smacked his forehead.
Freya gave him a pitying look. “He may be an arse but you’re an oblivious idiot.”
Merlin had been mulling over Arthur’s strange behavior since lunch. He was acting odd. Merlin sighed and accepted that he would never have a handle on Arthur.
The library was quiet when he entered. There was not a single student and Mrs. Geoffries was also absent.
Merlin walked over to his work station and dropped his satchel at his feet.
He stretched, moved over to the stack of books from the morning and froze.
There was a post-it.
It was lying on the top of the books.
He approached it like anyone else might approach a venomous snake, wary. Swallowing hard, Merlin carefully reached out and lifted it from its resting place.
“Arthur!” he yelled, stumbling back, hand clutched to his chest. “What the fuck? What are you doing?”
Arthur stood there, hands shoved in his pockets, looking nervous. He raised his hand and waved.
Merlin leaned heavily against the bookshelf behind him, panting, startled. “Hi?” he asked, incredulous. “Hi? You scared me! What are you doing here?”
Arthur cocked his head to the side. “I’m here to see you. I thought that much was obvious.”
Merlin looked down at the note between his fingers then back to Arthur. Arthur’s hair was very blond in the fluorescent lighting and his wide eyes were very blue and he looked expectant and hopeful.
Arthur was in the library and Merlin was holding a note from his admirer.
Arthur had brought him coffee on the pavement after being a jealous arse to Gwaine. Arthur had fought Valiant because he had pushed Merlin to the floor. Arthur had spent his afternoon in the headmaster’s office the day his admirer didn’t show. Arthur had served a suspension because he didn’t want to see Merlin hurt. Arthur had driven him home.
Arthur had written the notes.
“Oh,” Merlin breathed. ”Oh!”
Arthur nodded and stepped forward, leaning over Merlin’s desk. “Oh,” he repeated, smirking. “Is that all you have to say?”
“It was you?” It came out like an accusation though Merlin didn’t mean it as one. He didn’t know exactly how he meant it since this was all very new. He was definitely off the map as far as his life experiences went.
“I think you’re gorgeous,” Arthur said. “I like your smile but I love your laugh. I think about what it would be like to kiss you.”
Merlin’s pulse was racing. His heart was thundering in his ears because it had been Arthur all along. Arthur, who Merlin had a massive crush on since he had been put in a headlock the first day of term, and who was currently reciting sweet nothings to him like he actually meant them.
Merlin licked his dry lips and watched as Arthur’s gaze dropped to his mouth.
“Please don’t let this be a prank,” Merlin whispered.
Arthur stepped around the desk, crowded Merlin against the bookshelf. “You really don’t see yourself clearly. I’m going to have to remedy that.”
Merlin bit back the please do that wanted to burst forth. Instead, he remembered to breathe. It was difficult since all higher brain functioning had headed south and what was left was occupied with calculating Arthur’s proximity.
“Why didn’t you tell me that day on the steps?” he asked.
Arthur frowned and sighed. “I was running to meet you and I had it all planned but I was stuck in the headmaster’s office and I wasn’t leaving until Valiant had been escorted from the premises. And then, when I finally saw you, you were so sad and I couldn’t.”
“You never meant to hurt me,” Merlin said.
Arthur shook his head. “Never.”
Affection bloomed in Merlin’s chest, wild and warm, infusing his already shaking frame, and flushing his cheeks an even deeper red. If Merlin wasn’t already half in love with Arthur, he was now.
“That’s good to know,” he answered shakily.
“Merlin,” Arthur said, inching forward, tentatively placing his hands on Merlin’s hips, “I’m going to kiss you now.”
This time, Merlin figured the please do was an appropriate response.
It started as a hesitant press of lips. Merlin shuddered and Arthur’s grip tightened as their mouths slid together, and then it became a little more insistent and Merlin found his hands acting of their own accord, tangling in Arthur’s hair. Merlin didn’t really know what he was doing, but it was alright because Arthur did and Merlin’s toes were curling in his shoes and the butterflies were back in full force.
It almost didn’t feel real but Merlin knew that in all his fantasies there were never books digging into his back so it had to be.
Arthur’s fingers skimmed underneath Merlin’s shirt and Merlin gasped into the kiss then moaned. Arthur pulled away, chuckled slightly before diving back in, this time his tongue teasing at the seam of Merlin’s mouth.
It lasted an eternity and as far as Merlin was concerned it was the best first kiss ever. He was giddy with it, lightheaded and hard as a rock but so incandescently happy that it didn’t matter if he never breathed again as long as he could kiss Arthur over and over.
Finally, Arthur pulled away, flushed and breathing heavily. Merlin dropped his hands to Arthur’s waist, reveling in the intimacy of the touch, and the knowledge that Arthur had pined for him, had concocted an elaborate plan to get his attention, liked him despite his clumsiness and utterly horrible acting skills.
Arthur rested his forehead against Merlin’s.
“I made you moan,” he said, awed, cupping Merlin’s cheek and running his thumb over Merlin’s bottom lip.
Merlin blushed. “Well, it was a good kiss.”
Arthur nodded. “It was.”
“So what happens now?” Merlin asked.
“From here, we go on several dates, sometimes doubling with Gwen and Lance and other times we go by ourselves so we can make out at the cinema. I hold your hand in the hallway to make sure you don’t trip over air. You insult me on occasion to keep me humble. I bring you coffee in the morning and you come to my footie games to cheer me on. We stay up all night on the phone together because we don’t want to hang up and I definitely kiss you a thousand times more.”
“You have this all figured out,” Merlin breathed.
“Well, I have been thinking about it for a while now.”
“I have too,” Merlin breathed. “Especially the kissing part.”
Arthur laughed then, loud and joyful. “Good,” he said. “I’m glad my attempts at seduction were successful.”
Merlin rolled his eyes, glad to hear that even while undeniably romantic, Arthur was still able to be a prat.
He smiled, happy, fit to burst with it and then he swept in and kissed Arthur again.