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Cinderella Wasn't a Clotpole

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”Please don’t make me beg, Arthur. I need you...I need you to fuck me.”

Merlin’s eyelids fluttered and it took a few minutes for him to fully open his eyes. He felt as if his eyelids were weighed down by sandbags. Once he had rubbed the grit from his lashes, he lifted his head slowly and immediately wished he hadn’t.

How much had he drunk the previous night? His vision was still blurry, his head was throbbing, and he was almost certain he could hear clanging, even though it was deathly quiet...wherever he was.

He dropped his head back down onto the pillow and instantly knew where he was. He would recognize Arthur’s distinct smell anywhere - the combination of his coconut-scented shampoo and sweet smelling citrus-y cologne. It was distinctively Arthur and Merlin usually couldn’t get enough of it.

But right now it was just confusing him. What was he doing in Arthur’s bed? He turned around and felt a slight breeze against his back and against his…bare arse?

Merlin shot up in bed and clutched his head, the clanging had stopped, but his head still throbbed. When he looked down, his eyes bulged and what he was wearing caused him even more confusion. He was wearing Arthur’s bright red apron.

He closed his eyes and a brief memory came back to him.

He was in Arthur’s kitchen. Arthur was holding Merlin around the waist. Merlin stumbled forward and grabbed Arthur’s apron and lazily slipped it over his head.

“I want ice cream,” Merlin slurred. “Sex makes me hungry. I want ice cream.”

As he opened his eyes, Merlin gulped. Could he and Arthur….Merlin shook his head. There was no way he and Arthur had sex. As huge as his crush was on Arthur that pretty much matched how non-sexual Arthur seemed to find him. Arthur’s favorite way of showing him affection was giving him a noogie.

They had been classmates four years prior and had become close friends, though that friendship for some reason had weakened for a couple of years now. It was another reason he was surprised to find himself in Arthur’s bedroom. They had barely spent much time together in the last month.

Merlin decided to get up. Maybe once he was up and had some coffee, the previous night’s events would become clear. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and his feet hit something smooth and a bit slippery. When he looked down, he saw a bunch of wrapped condoms littered the ground. Merlin covered his mouth in shock.

Okay, okay...so there are condoms on the ground. They’re wrapped, not used. There could be an innocent explanation.

Merlin quickly got up. He ignored his persistent headache and groped around the floor for his pants. He quickly put those on and flung open the closed door. He could hear the faint sound of opera music coming from downstairs in the direction of the kitchen.

His breath came out a bit erratic, and Merlin could feel his heart-rate speed up. Arthur was home. After taking in a few calming breaths, Merlin convinced himself this was a good thing. Who better to clarify this colossal misunderstanding?

Merlin gripped the wooden railing as he walked slowly downstairs. His hands glided down the cold banister and as he looked over at his hand, his steps faltered as another memory flash hit him.

He gripped the banister and started to chuckle. His vision swam and he saw two Arthurs before him as he climbed up right in Arthur’s face. Arthur quickly leaned forward and grabbed Merlin around his knees, hoisted him over his back, and carried him upstairs.

“Oh, God,” Merlin groaned.

For four years he’d pined for Arthur. He had so many fantasies about Arthur carrying him up the stairs and some involving Arthur fucking him senseless on those stairs. But he never wanted it to happen while he was completely arseholed.

Finally, Merlin walked into the kitchen. Arthur seemed to sense his presence and looked over his shoulder. It was like something out of a television commercial or a 90’s music video. Arthur was standing in front of the stove - shirtless. With the window right above the golden sunrays, beamed down on him, making his blonde hair shine even brighter. The smile he gave Merlin was so beatific, Merlin wanted to cry.

Arthur was fixing up a plate of eggs, beans, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, and tomatoes - the perfect fry-up. He put down the pan and turned around fully. “Are you alright? You still look a little pissed.”

Merlin didn’t want to just come out and ask if they’d had sex. He wanted to give Arthur a little more credit than that and he didn’t want to embarrass himself. The best way to deal with it was just to be tactful and ease into it.

“Did we shag last night or what?” Well, that didn’t come out as he intended.

Arthur froze for a second, then threw back his head and laughed. He picked up the plates and set them down on the table that separated him and Merlin. He walked around it and stepped right up to Merlin. He was so close Merlin could count every one of Arthur’s magnificent eyelashes, if he were so inclined.

“Is your little bottom sore, Merlin?” Arthur put his hand on his hips.

“No,” Merlin huffed in embarrassment.

“Then there you go,” Arthur said with more than a little of his customary condescension. “Nothing happened. If it did, you wouldn’t have been able to properly walk down those stairs, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes, Arthur. I’m not an idiot.” Merlin rolled his eyes.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to say that, especially after last night.” Arthur chuckled.

Merlin closed his eyes and winced. Now he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know what happened last night. “What did I do?”

“Oh, nothing, just drank your weight in tequila is all.” Arthur sat down at the table and leaned back in the chair.

Merlin groaned and his head landed with a dull thud against the wall. He groaned again and rubbed the sore spot. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, given the ill effects he was feeling, but to have Arthur confirm it just made Merlin feel embarrassed and stupid. “I know I must have been so pissed, but how did I end up here?”

Arthur motioned for Merlin to sit down at the table. When Merlin sank down heavily into the chair opposite him, Arthur began to explain. “After you went to that party with Gwaine - the one I told you was a tragically bad idea, by the way.”

“Yes, yes, you’re incredibly wise. Can you just…” Merlin swallowed down a bit of bile and had to move the plate of eggs away from him. He was sure it was lovely and appreciated Arthur’s effort, but the sight and smell made him a little nauseous. “Can you skip ahead please?”

Arthur narrowed his eyes briefly and steepled his hands under his chin. “Since you asked so nicely. Anyway, you went to the party. After Gwaine left you all alone, to presumably chase after every bird and bloke he could conceivably shag in a twelve hour period, you decided to drink your night away. Then you called me to pick you up.” He started to tuck into his breakfast.

This was so frustrating. It was odd, and a bit annoying, to have someone else need to explain his own actions to him. Merlin leaned his elbows against the table and put his head in his hands. “I don’t understand why I would have called you and not just found Gwaine.”

Arthur shrugged as he got up and got Merlin a glass of water. “It’s not as if you had enough brain cells to rub together last night to explain your thought process to me, Merlin.” He put the glass down in front of Merlin gently. “Though I know even if you had been able to find Gwaine last night, and by some miracle managed to convince him to put an end to his night of debauchery, he was in no position to take you home.”

That made sense. Merlin nodded gratefully at Arthur before he picked up the glass of water and chugged it.

Arthur sat back down and took a bite of sausage. “I decided to bring you here and let you sleep it off. Might I add going above and beyond by letting you sleep in my bed.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “I hate sleeping on the ruddy couch down here. I’m sore and still completely knackered.”

Arthur stretched. He leaned his hand against the edge of the table and leaned back, extending his long, shirtless upper torso.

As Merlin gazed at Arthur’s taut, sinewy chest - his stare traveled down to Arthur’s six-pack, and the light dusting of hair that led down to his...Merlin swallowed thickly and briefly rubbed the sweat and lust out of his eyes. Arthur’s near nakedness suddenly reminded Merlin of his own.

“Arthur, if nothing happened then why did I wake up-”

“In my apron?” Arthur interrupted, before he smirked. “Because you’re even dafter drunk than you are normally. I put you in my bed to sleep. Twenty minutes later, you came downstairs saying you were now ‘dressed to impress.’”

“And I was…?

“Naked as the day you were born?” Arthur nodded once. “Yes.” Arthur finished his eggs. “After a bit of a struggle, I carried you back upstairs and put you back to bed.”

Merlin rested his chin over his folded hands. See, of course there was a more rational explanation.

“You really don’t remember anything?” Arthur watched him as Merlin finally pulled his breakfast toward him.

“Bits and pieces.” Merlin sighed. “But most of it seems to be gone. I didn’t think things like that actually happened.”

Arthur stared at him for a few more seconds. He opened his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it. He looked over his shoulder toward the window. “I’m not exactly proud of this, but I have experience with drunken nights like what you’re going through.” He looked back at Merlin and grinned. “Sometimes the memories come back and sometimes they don’t. Best not to force it.”

Merlin nodded slowly. He supposed Arthur was right. Merlin picked up a fork and was about to have some eggs, when he put the fork down suddenly. “Condoms. What about the condoms?”

“Oh, those…” Arthur glanced down and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Yes.” Merlin waved the fork at Arthur. “And I do remember saying something about wanting ice cream after sex.”

“Bollocks,” Arthur whispered. “I wish you hadn’t remembered that part.”

Merlin dropped the fork. “Why?” His voice hitched slightly in panic.

“It’s kind of embarrassing...for you.” Arthur clarified that last point as he nodded his head towards Merlin.

“Oh, no,” Merlin moaned.

“You made some advances towards me. Not that I can really blame you, because well…” He gestured to his chest, smugly.

Merlin glared at him.

“You were very eager to have sex, and then have ice cream afterward.” Arthur wrinkled his brow. “You were really adamant about that part for some reason. You had some very detailed ideas of what you wanted to do with that ice cream in the bedroom. I was kind of impressed.” When Merlin groaned pitifully, Arthur hurriedly moved on. “I said no, and it took some convincing, but I finally got you to go to sleep.”

Merlin shook his head. Just when he thought things couldn’t get more embarrassing.

“I have a few pictures of you when you came downstairs, if you want to see.”

“Pictures?” Merlin’s mouth dropped open.

“Yes,” Arthur said brightly. But his developing smirk dropped when he looked at Merlin’s appalled face. “I took some pictures with my phone. I’m sorry; it seemed funny at the time.” He cleared his throat and looked down at the table. “But I can see now, in hindsight, why it’s not.”

Merlin put his head on the table and put his arms over his head. “Bloody hell!” He cursed, though his voice came out muffled. After a minute, he poked his head up and closed his hands around the back of his neck. “I’m a cautionary tale.” He pointed at his face. “This is what happens when you get smashed - the acute feeling that someone has put your head in a vise and is squeezing it slowly and as a side bonus, abject embarrassment.”

Arthur bit his lip to keep from laughing.

Merlin buried his face in his hands, but then quickly looked up. “This is a lesson to myself, really. Tequila, make that any alcohol, is the devil’s ale and I will not drink a drop of it again.”

This time Arthur did laugh outright. “I doubt that. I think the lesson is to drink in moderation.” Arthur got up and started to make some tea. He looked at Merlin over his shoulder. “Also not to go on the piss with a drunkard like Gwaine.”

Merlin chuckled. Gwaine was great fun and a great friend, but not exactly the greatest influence. “Gwaine makes drinking look so easy. I guarantee you he’s not waking up confused, naked, and alone.” Merlin finally started to eat.

“No, probably just confused, naked, and covered in various bodily fluids,” Arthur said with scorn.

Merlin almost choked on his sausage. “Why don’t you like Gwaine?” He asked after he’d swallowed.

Merlin and Gwaine had become fast friends after they’d met a few months back, at of all places, a bookstore. Gwaine had just popped in because a guy he’d fancied had walked in, but he immediately abandoned that pursuit when he ran into Merlin.

Gwaine had flirted shamelessly with Merlin, something he still did even though he knew it wouldn’t lead to anything, but he had quickly surmised that Merlin was in love with someone else. When he found out it was Arthur, Gwaine seemed to make it his mission to make Merlin confess his feelings and end his prolonged lovesick agony.

Arthur had instantly seemed wary of Gwaine. The way he constantly draped himself all over Merlin and mocked Arthur’s posh upbringing seemed to particularly annoy Arthur. Merlin would never forgot how Arthur uncharacteristically lost his composure when Merlin told him he had invited Gwaine to crash at his flat with an open-ended invitation. Arthur had given him an earful about Gwaine being a con artist and bad influence.

“I don’t dislike Gwaine.” Arthur turned around and idly played with a dishtowel next to the sink. “The way he lives his life, leaves something to be desired, but I have nothing personal against him.”

That seemed more or less true, so Merlin dropped it. Arthur and Gwaine were very similar and just seemed to like pushing each other’s buttons. Besides, Merlin had more pressing issues to think about. There was still something nagging at Merlin about last night, but he supposed that was a normal reaction.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Arthur looking at him with a fond expression. It felt like something was coming back to him, but after a few moments of no new memories he gave up. When Merlin looked up at Arthur, he turned away.

After Merlin was done with breakfast, he got up and took his plate to the sink. He turned to Arthur. “And you’re sure nothing at all happened?”

“Of course nothing happened.” There was a slight edge to Arthur’s voice. “I’m a little insulted you think I would take advantage of you like that.”

Now Merlin felt guilty. He didn’t mean to put Arthur on the spot or make any accusations. Merlin reached out and squeezed Arthur’s shoulder. “No, you’re right. Of course, I should know better. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.” Arthur sighed. He looked at the kettle on the stove. “Do you want some tea?”

Merlin thought about it for a moment. Finally, he shook his head. “No, but thank you. I should probably get home. I’m just going to get the rest of my stuff upstairs.”

Merlin wondered if he imagined the look of disappointment on Arthur’s face. Whatever the look was it left as fast as it came. Arthur turned around and poured himself some tea. “Alright. I’ll finish my breakfast and then I’ll drive you home.”

“Alright, thanks.” Merlin stopped at the door of the kitchen. He swiveled around and wrung his hands. “Uh, Arthur, about last night and my trying to…”

“It’s alright, Merlin.” Arthur waved off Merlin’s stilted apology. “I know you were drunk. It really didn’t mean anything,” he said with ease. He didn’t bother to look back at Merlin.

“Right,” Merlin whispered. It was good. Everything should be fine between them now. Of course it didn’t mean anything. And if he told himself that enough times, he was sure it would truly sink in. He cleared his throat. “Well, thank you again for last night. Everything you did,” Merlin laughed slightly, “and didn’t do.”

Arthur didn’t say anything, but smiled tightly back at him.

Merlin had only stepped one foot out of the kitchen before Arthur called him back.

“You should probably do something about that bird’s nest atop your head.” Arthur gestured to Merlin’s hair.

Merlin grimaced as he ran a hand through his unruly mop of black hair. He ran upstairs without another word.

When Merlin got back to Arthur’s bedroom, he found his shirt and started to put it on. His gaze landed on the mess of condoms on the floor. He decided to show Arthur his appreciation and decided to try to tidy up a little.

He bent down and scooped up more than a handful of the condoms. As he looked down at the wrappers in his hands, he found himself mesmerized by them. He couldn’t stop staring. Suddenly, his eyes snapped shut as he was hit with the return of another memory.

Arthur carried Merlin back into his room. Merlin was surprised by the ease with which Arthur carried him. Somehow, Arthur laid him down on the bed gently.

Merlin wasn’t so gentle when he dragged Arthur down by his collar and pressed their bodies together. One arm flailed out to the side as he tried to grasp the handle of the bedside table.

Arthur looked over curiously as Merlin got the drawer open after a few fumbled attempts. “What are you doing?” He said as he faced Merlin again with a curious look.

“Looking for your…” The tip of Merlin’s tongue stuck out as Merlin groped around in Arthur’s drawer. “Yes!” He pulled out a box of condoms. “I think we’ll be needing these.”

“How did you know I had those there?”

“That’s where most people keep those sorts of things, isn’t it?” Merlin examined the content of the box with an almost demented glee. “That and Gwaine likes to snoop in other people’s houses.”

“I should have known,” Arthur muttered. He started to squirm out of Merlin’s grasp.

Merlin was not about to let Arthur get away so easily. With a grace neither he nor Arthur thought he was capable of - especially in his current inebriated state - Merlin flipped Arthur over. They were perilously close to falling off the edge of the bed. “Come on, Arthur. It’s time to have a little fun. I’m starving.”

Instead of pulling out one condom, Merlin upended the whole box and its contents came spilling out onto Arthur’s chest, though most of the purple wrappers landed on the floor.

“If you still want ice cream, I can take you back to the kitchen-”

Merlin leaned forward and ground his growing erection against Arthur’s crotch. “It’s not that kind of hunger, Arthur.”

They were nose to nose and Arthur bit his lip before pushing Merlin back so they weren’t quite so close. “Merlin, you’re hammered. You don’t know what you’re saying. You don’t want me.”

Merlin’s manic grin faded. His unfocused gaze cleared. For the first time in a long time, Merlin seemed completely lucid. “But I do, Arthur. I really do.” He stroked a hand down Arthur’s cheek. “Please don’t make me beg, Arthur. I need you...I need you to fuck me.”

Arthur blinked up at him. Suddenly, Merlin found himself on his back.

Arthur clutched Merlin’s shoulders, kneading them. The lust in Arthur’s eyes wasn’t what surprised Merlin the most. Arthur looked at him with such warmth and genuine vulnerability that Merlin began to shake. But Arthur still hesitated and seemed uncertain.

“Merlin…”

Merlin closed the distance between them and pressed a hard kiss to Arthur’s lips. He pulled back only a fraction to see that Arthur’s eyes were closed. He then moved back in with a gentler touch. His lips parted when Arthur’s did and he deepened the kiss.

Arthur let out a soft moan and soon carded his fingers through Merlin’s hair.

Merlin pulled back slowly and tugged at Arthur’s bottom lip gently with his teeth.

Merlin watched Arthur as Arthur’s eyes remained closed; when he finally opened them, Merlin tried to reflect all the hope and love in his heart through his blue gaze. “Please…”

“Alright.” Arthur nodded his head shakily. He leaned down and kissed Merlin softly as he reached back and pulled his shirt off.

Merlin gasped as he fell back on the floor with a hard thump. He opened his eyes slowly. It actually happened. He really did sleep with Arthur.

His first reaction surprised him - he laughed. At first it was just relief. He was happy to have his own memories back and not have to piece things together from flashes and from someone else’s re-telling. He wished he remembered the actual act. He was sure it was incredible.

When he thought about having sex with Arthur, for a moment he felt true happiness. He let out a short, burst of giddy laughter. He clamped a hand over his mouth to stifle the sound. No matter the circumstances, it had been something he’d wanted for so long. When he remembered the look of lust and longing in Arthur’s eyes when he flipped them over and lingered above Merlin it took his breath away. Arthur had wanted him, too. He was certain of it. But…

If that were true, then why did Arthur lie to him? The light and happy feeling in his stomach gave way to something sour and unpleasant. Perhaps...perhaps Arthur was just trying to save Merlin from being completely embarrassed? Despite the way Merlin sometimes needled him, Arthur was a good friend and that seemed like a viable option. But given everything else Arthur had told him about Merlin’s drunken escapades, why would he think knowing they actually had sex embarrass Merlin further?

Merlin stood up slowly. Perhaps it wasn’t Merlin’s embarrassment he was worried about. Merlin clutched at his stomach as he started to feel queasy. Merlin wondered if he was so horrible in bed that Arthur couldn’t even bear the thought of anyone - even Merlin - knowing they’d slept together.

Or maybe Arthur just slept with Merlin out of pity? Or maybe it was because Arthur was horny and Merlin was the most convenient hole Arthur could find? Maybe Arthur realized sleeping together, especially while Merlin was drunk, was a mistake and wanted to forget it ever happened.

Merlin began to pace. If Arthur felt regret, Merlin could possibly understand that, but it didn’t justify Arthur lying to him. Merlin curled his hands slowly into fists. Arthur didn’t just lie to him. He made him feel like he was crazy, like he was completely daft to think that they could have possibly had sex. Then he made him feel guilty for even suggesting that anything could have happened. He even suggested that Merlin not even try to remember what happened.

Arthur was messing with his head and Merlin was truly pissed off. What gave Arthur the right? If the situations had been reversed, Merlin would have never lied to Arthur like that. He wouldn’t have treated him like some pathetic idiot.

All of a sudden his headache was gone. He wasn’t confused anymore. All of his happy feelings were gone now, too. The only thing he felt right now was righteously angry. He wasn’t going to let Arthur get away with this.

As Merlin climbed down the stairs, his rational brain didn’t take over. If anything, his anger only increased, as he thought about all of the reasons Arthur possibly lied to him.

Merlin stormed back into the kitchen. He started moving towards the stove before he had fully decided what he was going to do. Impulsively, he grabbed the pan of eggs - he was extremely grateful that the stove wasn’t hot anymore - he didn’t need to add second degree burns on top of all of the other embarrassments of the past two days.

He stalked towards Arthur, who had been staring at him quizzically, and dumped the eggs over his head.

Arthur immediately launched out of his seat. “What. The. Hell?!”

“‘Is your little bottom sore, Merlin?’” Merlin said in a mocking tone. He let out a short, frustrated growl. “You made me think I had gone around the bend! Of course posh and perfect Arthur Pendragon would never shag the likes of poor and scrawny Merlin Emrys!”

Arthur shook eggs from his hair. “Merlin, I-”

“I remember, Arthur!”

“You remember?” The color drained from Arthur’s face.

“Yes,” Merlin hissed. “I remember everything. I know you wished I hadn’t, but I did.”

“Oh.” Arthur averted his eyes.

“Oh?” Merlin whispered. He threw up his hands. “Oh? That’s all you have to say? I find out that you lied to me and that we did actually have sex and your brilliant rejoinder is ‘oh?’”

“You think we slept together?” Arthur’s eyes widened.

“Yes! I remember it. I remember begging you to sleep with me.” Merlin felt a swell of embarrassment and caught himself before he turned away. No matter how embarrassed he felt right now, he refused to let Arthur see it. The shame right now belonged to Arthur. “You said alright and we started to snog.”

“And?”

“And? And what? I don’t remember everything yet in graphic detail, but I can guess what happened next.”

“Merlin, please, you don’t understand.” Arthur stepped closer to Merlin, but Merlin held up his hand in warning. Arthur stopped mid-step.

“No, I don’t.” Merlin shrugged. “Was the thought of having lowered yourself to sleep with me so repellant to you that you had to lie to me?” Merlin hated the way his voice shook, but he couldn’t help it.

Arthur tried to close the distance again, but Merlin quickly walked a few steps away. “Merlin, we didn’t sleep together. I swear!”

Merlin closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. “I don’t believe this. You can’t even admit it now? I must have been really terrible. Or maybe you’re just trying to cover your own arse.” He chuckled bitterly.

Merlin was shocked when Arthur looked into his eyes with sadness, pity, and something else Merlin couldn’t place and he didn’t care to figure it out. That Arthur pitied him in this moment was too much.

“Merlin, I’m sorry for not telling you the whole truth - about kissing you. But if you just let me explain…”

“I’m done listening to you, Arthur. I don’t want to hear anything else that comes out of your mouth.” Merlin ran out of there, more embarrassed and upset by his outburst than angry at this point, but he just had to get out of Arthur’s flat that very second.

He let the tears fall as he rushed down the stairs two at a time. When he finally made it out of Arthur’s building, he had begun to compose himself. As he walked further along Merlin wished he had thought things through.

Even though Merlin thought he was prepared to walk all the way home, it didn’t really seem like a feasible option. Even if he weren’t suffering the ill effects of a bad hangover and a broken heart, there were more practical issues to consider. In his haste to leave Arthur and his embarrassment behind, he had forgotten to take his shoes and his flat was more than a half hour away.

It was the last thing he wanted to do, especially knowing the explaining he would have to do, but Merlin felt he had no other option but to call Gwaine and ask him to pick him up. When Gwaine arrived, Merlin barely avoided rolling his eyes. True to form, Gwaine had no residual issues from the previous night. He looked cheerful and well-rested, as if he’d gone to spa, instead of on a bender.

Thankfully, Gwaine didn’t pester Merlin for any details about what happened. It was clear he knew that something was troubling Merlin, but he let Merlin rest.

Merlin wanted to close his eyes and sleep, but his mind wouldn’t let him. He kept thinking about what happened. Even though he thought he had a reason to be upset with Arthur, his anger was starting to dissipate. He stared out the car window and just felt unbearably sad and lost. What if his and Arthur’s friendship couldn’t recover from this? Did he even want it to?

Although Gwaine had been patient in the car that quickly ended once they were home. He directed a shoeless Merlin to the couch, sat him down, and crossed his arms in front of his chest as he looked down at Merlin.

“What?” Merlin stared up at him.

“While I’ve never done the walk of shame myself-”

“Because you have no shame.”

“And for good reason,” Gwaine continued, unfazed by Merlin’s interruption. “Anyway, I’ve seen it enough times to recognize the signs and you are exhibiting all the signs. Did you and Arthur finally…?”

“Shag?”

“I was going to say stop being willful idiots and get over yourselves and do it, but your wording works to.” Gwaine sat down.

Merlin sighed. “I think so?”

“You think so?” Gwaine quirked his head to the side and looked at Merlin askance.

“Yeah.” Merlin slapped his hands against his thighs in frustration. “Thanks to you and that bloody party, I practically drank myself into a coma, and I’m missing a few important parts of my memory.”

“Well, did you ask Arthur?”

“Yes.” Merlin practically hissed. “But he lied and said nothing at all happened. But I remember us making out quite heavily and Arthur agreeing to have sex, so I’m fairly sure it happened.”

“Oh…” Gwaine trailed off as he eyed Merlin curiously. “You know, I thought if that ever happened you’d be chuffed, but you seem really displeased.”

“Because I was drunk, Gwaine. It’s not that I necessarily feel taken advantage of, but I don’t even remember it."

"I'm sure you'll remember it eventually." Gwaine gently put his hand on Merlin's arm. "I'm sure it was great."

"I doubt it," Merlin scoffed. "Arthur can't even admit it happened. I don't think that speaks highly of my bedroom skills."

"You don't know that," Gwaine retorted. "There could be a number of other reasons he didn't say anything. Maybe he was trying to spare you any embarrassment given how drunk you were. Or maybe he was upset at himself for pouncing on you while you were pissed - not that I can blame him, you looked quite fetching last night."

A slight grin spread on Merlin’s face.

"He also could have just been waiting for you to remember. Knowing Arthur I'm sure that's quite a blow to his ego."

Everything Gwaine was saying made sense. He'd thought of all those reasons already. But no matter how much it made sense, Merlin couldn't turn off that part of his brain which jumped to the worst case scenario every time.

"No, I don't think that's it. He's embarrassed that he slept with someone like me. I'm beneath him. I could never hope to be the kind of person Arthur would want to be with."

Gwaine closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. "Merlin, I'm sorry," he said when he opened his eyes.

"For what?"

Gwaine smacked Merlin hard on the back of the head. "For that."

"Ow!" Merlin shouted. "Are you off your nut?"

"Are you?" Gwaine pushed his shoulder slightly. "Merlin, you giant twat! How could you say those kinds of things about yourself?"

"I don't know, maybe because I'm a twat." Merlin rubbed the back of his head.

"First of all, Arthur should get down on his hands and knees and be thankful someone like you can put up with his shite."

Merlin's gaze fell to his lap. Gwaine was usually a fun-loving guy, so when he used his stern voice like this, you knew he meant serious business. It felt like being scolded by a parent.

"Secondly, I may give princess a hard time, but I know he would never think something like that about you." Gwaine sighed. "And I know that you know that. Whatever is going on in that head of yours is about you, not him."

Merlin winced. God, Gwaine could be perceptive when he wanted to be. But Merlin was too tired to face the truth now. He got up slowly. "I know you mean well, and I do thank you for your concern, but Gwaine, I'm too tired to deal with this right now. I just want to shower and get a little sleep. You can continue to berate me in a few hours."

It looked like Gwaine wanted to protest, but he didn't try to stop Merlin from walking away.

Merlin tried to put aside Gwaine’s words and thoughts of Arthur when he got to his room. The first stop he made was his bathroom where he turned on the water in the shower and began to slowly undress.

The first thing he did was stick his head under the spray and let the warm rush of water cascade over his body and soothe his tired muscles. He turned and laid his head against the cool, green tile. After a while, he couldn’t think anymore and all he could do was feel. Gwaine’s words were truly sinking in.

He felt like a giant idiot. Maybe he should have given Arthur the benefit of the doubt. He shouldn’t have been so vicious. This whole thing was his fault in the first place. If he hadn’t idiotically gotten so hammered he could barely see straight, if he hadn’t called Arthur in the first place and dragged him into this, if he hadn’t fallen in love with his straight friend, none of this would have happened.

It was the first time he had ever truly admitted - even to himself - that what he felt for Arthur went beyond a simple physical attraction or a crush - he was so in love with Arthur and he had no idea how to make it stop. And now he’d truly fucked everything up. Arthur would probably never speak to him again.

With a bone weary sigh, Merlin reached up to the shower caddy mounted on top of the shower head to retrieve his shampoo. As he pulled it down, he caught a glimpse of his wrist and noticed for the first time a slight bruise. He wasn’t in any real pain, but it was definitely a bruise. He touched the light reddish mark and wondered what else had happened last night to cause the mark.

He briefly flashed to a memory of someone holding him down. When he looked up, some of the water from the shower spray started to hit his eyes. He blinked away water rapidly and suddenly the final pieces started to become clear.

Merlin wasn’t quite sure how his brain was still functioning right now. He still felt like his brain was trapped in a tequila-soaked haze, but that was nothing compared to the heady feeling of lust overpowering him as Arthur’s fingers traveled up and down his body.

That haziness contributed to Merlin’s bumbled attempt to pull down Arthur’s zipper. His fingers slipped four times and when he managed to start to pull it down, the slider would get stuck. Regrettably, Merlin pulled away from Arthur’s bruising kiss. That turned out to be a mistake.

Merlin almost cheered when he got the zipper all the way down, but then Arthur cut the celebration short.

“Wait, wait.” He reached out and grabbed Merlin’s wrists and took a deep breath. “I can’t do this.”

“What?” Merlin stared at him unblinking for a moment.

Arthur slowly slid off Merlin. He fell onto his back and put his hand on his head as he looked up at the ceiling. He was breathing heavily.

Merlin finally recovered and turned onto his side and reached for Arthur again. “Arthur, please don’t stop. Don’t you want me?” He ran his hands down Arthur’s tight abs and almost reached the front of his jeans.

“Merlin, stop!” Arthur shouted. He grasped Merlin’s wrists again and held them together as he pulled them up and away from his crotch. He turned over and stared into Merlin’s eyes. “Merlin, I…” Arthur leaned forward and placed his forehead on top of Merlin’s hands, which were curled inwardly. Arthur’s lips brushed against Merlin’s knuckles and Merlin closed his eyes as he felt Arthur’s hot breath hit his skin.

Merlin could feel Arthur’s iron grip on his wrists, but it didn’t hurt. The only thing that hurt was the strained, desperate look in Arthur’s eyes.

“Merlin, I want to be with you,” he said into the space between, not looking up at Merlin yet. “If you never believe anything else I say to you again, please believe that.”

There was no mistaking the sincerity in Arthur’s voice. Merlin nodded briefly.

Arthur finally met Merlin’s gaze. He chuckled but there was no light in his eyes. “For ages now half the time we’re alone together I don’t hear a word you say. Either I’m trying to keep from launching myself at you or I’m trying to stop myself from telling you how I feel.”

How had he not seen this before? Merlin just stared at Arthur, gobsmacked.

Arthur lightly kissed Merlin’s hands before he dropped his wrists. He touched Merlin’s face and the corners of his mouth curled up before he pulled back. “It’s taking everything in me to stop and not do as you ask. Not do what I’ve wanted to do so desperately.”

“What’s that?” Merlin whispered. His voice cracked harshly.

Arthur looked at him out of the corner his eye and pressed his mouth together in a tight line. Finally, he hugged his arms to his chest and looked up at Merlin. “I want to kiss you until our jaws are aching and we’re both dizzy. I want to lick every inch of your body. When I get to your arse, I want to slowly spread your cheeks apart and kiss you where no one has ever dared kiss you before. God, Merlin, I want to eat you and taste you until my face is dripping with you. I want you to ache for me, the way I ache for you, until you’re begging me to you fuck you. And I would. Happily.” Arthur let out a shuddering breath.

Merlin was clutching the sheets tightly. He could have sworn he blacked out several times during Arthur’s speech - a speech that did nothing to alleviate Merlin’s horniness, evidenced by the fact he was harder than he’d ever been in his life. Merlin inched closer to Arthur and opened his mouth to speak, but Arthur held up his hand.

“But I won’t. I’m a patient man, Merlin. I’ve waited for you for so long. I’m not going to risk our chance for something good on a drunken fuck. I won’t.” He shook his head resolutely. “You mean more to me than that.”

Merlin stared hard at Arthur in shock, and more than a little, awe.

Arthur slowly climbed down off the bed. “So...I’m going to go and I’m going to take care of this…” He gestured at his crotch with the obvious bulge. “You do what you need to do and then you get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” He started to walk away and turned back to Merlin. “I’ll make you breakfast.”

He was almost out the door and Merlin didn’t know what to do. More than anything he wanted Arthur to stay with him. A part of him was so worried that this was all a dream and if Arthur left he was just going to wake up and none this would have really happened. “Arthur, wait!”

Arthur stopped at the door and reached out to hold the door frame. He didn’t turn around.

“Can’t you just stay and just sleep here? Just sleep, I promise,” Merlin pleaded.

“No.” Arthur turned to face him. “I can’t, Merlin. I’m sorry. Goodnight.”

Merlin sputtered helplessly and almost choked on the water that began to fill his open mouth. He spit out the water and shut it off. He hurriedly turned and yanked the shower curtain back, part of it ripped completely free from several shower hooks.

In Merlin’s haste, he almost tripped several times, and ultimately fell hard on one knee right by the open bathroom door. But Merlin didn’t have time to care about his throbbing knee or the lake he left on the floor.

He quickly grabbed a shirt and pants from his closet and began to put them on. Gwaine rushed into the room as Merlin was struggling to get his head out of the sleeve he had accidentally put over his head.

“For fuck’s sake, what’s all the racket?” Gwaine yelled.

Merlin emerged from the tight sleeve and put the shirt on properly. He faced his friend. “It turns out that I really am the biggest twat on the entire planet.” He ran his hands through his wet hair. “Oh, God Gwaine I need your help.”

~*~

Merlin was pretty sure they broke land speed records to get back to Arthur’s. If he wasn’t running on sheer adrenaline right now, Merlin was positive he would have hurled several times.

To Gwaine’s credit he didn’t say “I told you so” that often. Normally, he would have said it about ten times already, but thankfully, it had only been said three times.

They stopped in front of Arthur’s flat block and Merlin was out the door before the car had even fully parked. “Thanks.”

“Good luck!” Gwaine replied.

As he turned to go, Merlin only got about two steps before he faltered. The enormity of what was about to potentially happen hit him. He slowly looked over his shoulder to Gwaine. “I’m scared.” He turned around fully. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. What if he won’t talk to me?”

Gwaine leaned out of the window. “Then you make him. Merlin, you’ve been waiting for this for a long time. If you have to you grab him by the balls and force him to hear you, then that’s what you need to do.”

Merlin shook his head and smiled. “I’m not sure if physically assaulting him would help my cause, but you’re right. I have to make him listen. Thank you.”

Gwaine nodded.

He took the lift to Arthur’s floor this time and it felt like it took a hundred years. When he got to his door, Merlin lifted up his hand to knock and he realized he was shaking. He took a moment to calm down and steady his hand before he knocked.

He hugged his arms to his chest and tried to stop from bouncing up and down in place. He quickly debated knocking a second time, but didn’t need to when Arthur finally opened the door.

Merlin froze. He was braced for Arthur to start yelling at him or even to slam the door in his face, instead after a second of surprise Arthur merely turned around and walked back into his flat.

“I wasn’t sure if you’d come back for them or just send Gwaine,” he said.

“Come back for what?” Merlin scratched his head in confusion. He walked into Arthur’s place and shut the door behind him.

“For these.” Arthur walked back toward him, Merlin’s shoes in his hand. “Cinderella forgot his shoes.”

Merlin had completely forgotten about them. Tentatively, Merlin reached out and took the shoes back. He stared at Arthur and tried to make eye contact, but Arthur was looking everywhere but at Merlin.

“I’m not Cinderella.” Merlin sighed. “Cinderella wasn’t a complete clotpole.”

Arthur looked taken aback, but he recovered easily and grinned slightly. “I think her stepsister’s would beg to differ.”

There was so much Merlin wanted to say, but he didn’t know how to start. He stared at the floor and tried to will his brain to provide him with something coherent to say. Finally, he looked up and blurted out, “Thank you for not having sex with me.” Instantly his mouth dropped open as he played back the words that had come out of his mouth.

Arthur just gaped at him in shock.

Merlin closed his mouth and ran a hand slowly down his face. He started again. “I didn’t mean...I just...I remember everything that happened.”

Arthur crossed his arms over his chest and look at Merlin warily.

Merlin spoke before Arthur had a chance to. “I know I said that before, but this time it’s actually true. I do remember everything.”

A million different expressions passed over Arthur’s face - surprise, embarrassment, curiosity, hope - but he didn’t say anything, his mouth just formed a single grim line.

Merlin supposed that Arthur might be staying quiet because the last time Merlin had this revelation he was not exactly happy with Arthur’s reaction. “I didn’t know, Arthur. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that you…” Merlin let out a short hysterical laugh and shook his head. He couldn’t get Arthur’s speech to him out of his head. It still felt so surreal. “I’m so sorry.”

Arthur nodded and walked backwards towards his den. “I just need to um…” He gestured toward the couch.

After a moment’s hesitation, Merlin followed him. Slowly, Merlin sat down beside Arthur who looked like he was still trying to process everything.

“Arthur?” Merlin desperately wanted Arthur to look at him, but Arthur’s eyes were glued to the glass coffee table in front of them. Merlin plowed ahead anyway. “I’d like to think that I know you, Arthur.” He blew out a quick, nervous breath. “Maybe that’s not true, I don’t know. But I should have known you wouldn’t have taken advantage of the situation.”

“But I almost did take advantage.” Arthur looked at him through the corner of his eye.

“But you didn’t. I shouldn’t have said the things I did to you, Arthur. How I treated you this morning, it was unforgivable.”

The soft chuckle that came out of Arthur’s mouth surprised Merlin. Arthur turned to look at him and the fond expression on his face put him off balance before Arthur even opened his mouth.

“Merlin, I love you. I think I can forgive you anything.”

Merlin’s breath hitched several times and he blinked at Arthur. His vision blurred and he replayed Arthur’s words in his head over and over again as he tried to make sure what he heard wasn’t a hysterical hallucination.

He was having a hard enough time wrapping his brain around Arthur just wanting him, but to find out Arthur loved him. It had to be too good to be true.

As if he could read Merlin’s thoughts, Arthur said, “You’re not hearing things, Merlin. I said I love you.” Arthur smiled brightly and put his hand to his chest. “That feels really good to say finally. I’ve held it in for so long…”

Arthur cupped Merlin’s face gently and Merlin finally focused his gaze on him.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Merlin laughed. He didn’t realize he’d been crying until Arthur brushed a single tear gently with his thumb.

“Do you remember the day that my rugby team was finally competing for a chance to advance to the finals? We’d been working so hard all year and my father had never come to a single match, but he promised to be there that day. But he didn’t come and he didn’t even bother to tell me why, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, and yet…” Arthur let out a long sigh.

“I refused to let anyone see how much it upset me.” Arthur looked into Merlin’s eyes. “But you knew. You didn’t say anything. You didn’t ask me to talk about it. You just took me out for a drink and then you took me home and after that, in one of the most bizarre moments of my entire life, you sat me down in this very room and proceeded to act out the entire plot of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, complete with voices, stunts, and the weirdest faces I’ve ever seen.”

Merlin smiled at the memory. He had been scrambling to think of some way to cheer Arthur up and that movie was the first thing that came to mind. He hadn’t planned on acting the whole thing out, but the look on Arthur’s face - a combination of horror, confusion, and amusement - spurred him on.

Arthur dropped his hands from Merlin’s face and held his shoulders as he looked at Merlin and grinned. “I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. After you were done, you collapsed on the sofa next to me and had the goofiest grin on your face. I looked at you and I just knew. You understood me. You cared about I wanted and what I needed. You were willing to make a complete prat of yourself just to make me feel better. I knew I was in love with you then.”

“Arthur, that was three years ago.” Merlin gasped. He didn’t know how many shocks he could take in one day.

“I know.” Arthur looked down and rubbed the back of his neck. He bit his lip and seemed to struggle with what to say. “Merlin, in that moment, I’d never felt something so...it was as if everything I was feeling was magnified tenfold. I felt so happy…” Arthur’s voice quivered with excitement and he had a euphoric smile on his face, but in a split second, the smile fell away and he looked stricken. “But I was absolutely terrified. It was too much and I couldn’t deal with it.”

Merlin couldn’t believe it. He was still in a daze and kept staring at Arthur, too afraid that if he blinked that this wasn’t really happening, that Arthur wasn’t actually saying these words, that he would realize his dreams weren’t actually coming true.

A part of him was really kicking himself as well. If he had just been honest with Arthur, then maybe they could have figured things out together. He just never would have imagined that Arthur was feeling the same way as him - not only being in love with him, but having the same fear holding him back. Arthur was one of the bravest people he knew.

Arthur got up and walked over to the large window which took up almost half the wall. He put his hands on the glass, as he looked outside. “At first, I thought maybe my feelings would just go away, but they just kept getting stronger. And after enough time had passed, I convinced myself that it would be better to say nothing, that our friendship was too good to complicate things.” Turning to face Merlin, Arthur walked back over to him and knelt down beside him. “I’m glad what happened today happened.”

“Really?” Merlin said in surprise.

“It gave me the push that I needed. I realized I had to be honest with you, all of the excuses that I had come up with before didn’t matter. If I had been honest with you, we could have avoided this entire misunderstanding. This is my fault.”

Merlin slid down and knelt in front of Arthur. He grabbed Arthur’s hands. “It’s my fault, too. You’re not the only one that hasn’t been totally honest.” Merlin grinned so hard his cheeks hurt. “Though I think I have you beat, because I’ve been in love with you since I met you.”

Arthur’s mouth fell open slightly.

“Well, actually that’s not entirely true.” He bobbed his head a little back and forth. “I was in love with you instantly and then you opened your mouth and your pratliness made me hate you.” Arthur frowned and Merlin added quickly, “but then you showed me how wonderful you were underneath and that was it. I was irretrievably, hopelessly, arse over tit in love.”

Arthur shook his head fondly and shot Merlin a watery smile.

Merlin groaned suddenly. “Christ, why couldn’t we have just said something sooner? So much time wasted. If we had just opened our stupid mouths and-”

Arthur cut him off with a kiss.

Merlin smiled into the kiss, but when Arthur flicked his tongue against his bottom lip, he groaned and opened wider for Arthur. Merlin fisted his hands in Arthur’s hair and molded his body against Arthur’s.

After a minute they pulled away slowly. Arthur kept his eyes closed for a bit longer than Merlin. He had such a blissed out look on his face Merlin couldn’t help the mad grin as he looked down at him.

When Arthur finally opened his eyes, he returned Merlin’s smile. He stroked the side of Merlin’s face. “You know I think you’re right. I think we’re both idiots.”

“You know it’s a good thing you said you can forgive me anything.” Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur’s neck. “I have a feeling I’ll probably do a lot of idiotic things.”

“Of that I have no doubt,” Arthur said with a sly grin.

For that Merlin pinched his nipple through his shirt.

“Ow,” Arthur yelled, though he laughed afterwards. He winced slightly. “I don’t know about you, but my knees are starting to hurt.” Merlin nodded. Arthur stood up and then took Merlin’s hands and helped him up.

“You know,” Merlin started as he and Arthur walked hand in hand out of the den, “I’m sort of starving.”

“Yeah?” Arthur stopped them in front of the kitchen.

“Yeah. I’m absolutely ravenous.” Merlin bit his lip in what he hoped was a seductive manner.

“Alright, let’s see what we have in the kitchen.” Arthur started to pull Merlin forward.

Merlin pulled him back. “I don’t think you have what I want in there.” His gaze drifted to Arthur’s crotch.

“It’s a fairly well stocked kitchen, Merlin.”

Merlin held back an eye roll and slinked up to Arthur. “Wasn’t there something you wanted to eat? Something you’ve been dying to have for a long time?” He wiggled his eyebrows exaggeratedly.

Arthur pursed his lips and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “You know it’s odd. I have been craving mince pies lately.” Arthur went into the kitchen.

“Arthur!” Merlin groaned. “I’m asking you if you want to fuck me. I mean…” Merlin threw up his hands in frustration.

Arthur didn’t turn around. Soon, Merlin saw his shoulders start to shake. Arthur turned around and burst out laughing.

“Why are you laughing?” Merlin stalked towards Arthur.

“Of course I knew that’s what you were going on about!” Arthur cupped Merlin’s face and smiled. “You’re going to have to work on your subtlety, Merlin, because - I’m sorry to say - it is not one of your talents.”

“I thought I was being subtle.” Merlin pouted.

Arthur threw his head back and laughed. “What am I going to do with you, Merlin?”

“I believe you came up with several good ideas last night. Something about rimming me within an inch of my life, until I’m begging you to fuck me?”

Arthur kissed him briefly. “Good memory.” He walked towards the refrigerator.

“What are you going there for? I’m not hungry for food.”

“I know.” Arthur threw him a quick glance over his shoulder. “I just want to make sure we have some ice cream for, you know, later.” He winked.

Merlin smiled brightly and joined Arthur to help him raid the refrigerator. They actually did end up eating some food first that night. Then, after a vigorous tumble under the sheets, they shared some ice cream and got sticky in all sorts of fun and messy ways. It was the best night of his life.

And the best part - the next morning, Merlin woke up with a bright smile and remembered every single moment.