Harry hated charity events. Usually he would just send a cheque in lieu of an RSVP, but Percival insisted they attend. Harry was all for raising awareness and helping out foundations in need, but he’d rather do it from the comfort of his own home.
“Roxy will be there, and we need to show our support,” Percival had said over their morning cuppa. Harry had tried to come up with an excuse, but Percival deftly shot each one down with the precision of a highly trained sharpshooter. “It’s her first year at the fire department and she wants to make a good impression. Please, Harry. For me.”
He could never deny Percival.
“Don’t look so upset,” Percival said as he returned with their champagne. “It isn’t all that bad.”
“You didn’t have to listen to Valentine,” Harry pointed out. He accepted his glass with a frown. “How long does it take to get a drink? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you purposely kept away.”
Percival kissed Harry’s cheek to placate him. “I did no such thing. That would be very ungentlemanly of me, now wouldn’t it?”
Harry huffed. “It certainly would, and you certainly did. I’ll remember that.”
Percival hummed in response and turned to face the room. A band played on stage, just below a giant banner that advertised the local fire department the event was supporting. It was a charity ball hosted by some woman’s organization that Harry didn’t bother learning the name of, and wouldn’t think about again after this night. He was sure the amount of money that went into planning the event could have as easily been turned over to the fire department and saved all of them the trouble of coming.
“Would you like to dance?” Percival asked, setting his half-empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter.
Maybe the night wasn’t so horrible. Harry placed his champagne glass down and held his hand out, which Percival accepted. “I’d be honored.”
They walked past the white linen draped tables decorated with clipboards for the silent auction and moved towards the dance floor in the center of the room. Couples were already dancing across the polished hardwood. Harry drew Percival close, settling his hand on the sharp line of his waist, and murmured into his ear, “You look lovely tonight.”
“I thought you were mad at me?” Percival said, moving closer than was necessarily proper for a waltz.
“Not mad,” Harry said, allowing the music to settle over him and guide his feet. “I’d just rather spend my free evening at home with you than here listening to Chester King go on about how the labor party is destroying our country. I told him there’s a reason why the aristocratic grew weak chins, and it wasn’t just from centuries of inbreeding.”
“You didn’t,” Percival said in false-admonishment, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“I did,” Harry insisted, spinning Percival around. “He didn’t know how to respond, so he just moved on to telling me about his insolent nephew who joined the station. I think his name was Charlie.”
Percival laughed and Harry thought about how he’d attend thousands of dreadful charity balls if it meant he could always listen to the musical sound. Harry kissed Percival’s forehead. “I’m having a lovely time, even if the company—present not included—is about as interesting as a wet napkin.”
“Well I’m grateful you came. Roxy needed our support.” Percival leaned forward, lips ghosting over Harry’s ear. “Remind me to show you just how grateful I am when we get home.”
The music cut off before Harry could comment and woman dressed in a slinky shimmering gown tapped at the microphone. Harry let go of Percival and turned to face the stage.
“Hello ladies and gentleman, I’m Beverly Timsworth, President of Chelsea’s Women’s’ Society. Thank you all for coming tonight and showing your support for the Chelsea Station Fire Brigade. We’re lucky to have such honorable men and women serving to protect us each and every day.” Beverly paused to clap her hands. “Now, our silent auction will be closing soon. So if you haven’t made any bids, make sure you take your chance now. There are some excellent prizes we’re giving away, including five night stay at the exclusive Delphina Resort in the Bahamas.”
Harry leaned close to Percival. “Please tell me you bid on that.”
Percival shot him a sly smile.
“Now, we have one last surprise for you,” Beverly announced. Harry exchanged a look with Percival, one eyebrow cocked. Percival shrugged and looked back at the stage. “The fire department will be auctioning off a date with three of their newest members.”
Another round of applause. Harry shared a quizzical look with Percival, but neither commented as they clapped dutifully.
“We’ll begin with newest member, Charlie Hesketh,” Beverly announced.
Charlie walked out from behind the stage, dressed in a bespoke tuxedo. He was handsome in that stereotypical way that seemed ubiquitous with today’s youth but Harry found boring; nothing exceptionally interesting about him, but a still pleasing face. This must be King’s revered nephew. It sounded fairer to pay one of the guests to spend the night with him.
“We’ll start the bidding at a hundred,” Beverly said. The hands went up.
“You know,” Percival said beside him.
“Please tell me you don’t want to bid on him,” Harry said. “I’ll be very offended.”
Percival rolled his eyes. “Not for me, you idiot.”
“Well, you were just telling me how you wanted to set Merlin up,” Percival said.
Harry mauled over the insinuation. It was true, he’d been trying to get Merlin to go out for some time. They’d been friends for years, started a business together, and spent most of their days around one another. Only, at the end of the day, Harry went home to Percival, whereas Merlin went home to a computer. He didn’t even have the decency to get a proper cat to waste his days on. Merlin contented himself with some app he called Neko Atsume.
“All the enjoyment of cat ownership, without the mess,” Merlin had explained when Harry asked him what the devil the app was.
“Not him,” Harry said. “He looks like a little shit.”
The bidding reached eight hundred for Charlie before Beverly declared a victor. The bounty went to a desperate looking middle-aged woman dripping with diamonds. Charlie smiled bravely, but Harry swore he saw a touch of apprehension in his eyes.
Charlie vanished behind the curtain, and Beverly announced, “Our second fire fighter is for the men out there. She’s the first female fighter to join the Chelsea Station, Ms. Roxanne Morton.”
“Did you know she was doing this?” Harry asked as he clapped obediently.
“No, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Do you think she’ll be terribly mad if I bid?”
Roxy stopped in the middle of the stage and smiled resplendently at the crowd. She’d chosen a deep blue dress, which poured over her well-toned form, spilling around her feet in a waterfall of starlight. The thin straps of the dress revealed the hard definition of her arms, which she spread out as she turned in a circle.
Hands shot up, one of which was Harry’s.
“Harry,” Percival scolded without real infliction.
“You’ll have to beat me.” Harry kept raising his hand in bid, and Percival met each price increase.
The hands started dropping off until it was left to the two of them. Percival glared Harry down, lifting his hand and declaring, “Eleven hundred.”
Roxy glared at the both of them, cheeks red. She set her hands on her hips, and Harry decided at that moment to graciously bow out.
“Well, that was exciting! We have a winner at eleven hundred. Thank you Mr.—” Beverly turned to Percival.
“Hart,” Percival declared with a victorious grin. His smile faltered when he turned to Roxy, whose glare could have peeled the paint from the walls. She arched one pointed brow, and Percival coughed in his hand, turning away discretely.
“I think she’s mad,” Harry whispered at Percival.
“Oh do shut up, you bastard,” Percival hissed.
Roxy walked off the stage, and Percival vanished into the crowd, no doubt to find his niece and try to assuage her anger.
“Our last participant is Chelsea Station’s youngest member, Mr. Gary Unwin,” Beverly announced, hands raised as she clapped.
Harry had hoped someone at a more respectable age would have participated in the event. He wasn’t sure how Merlin would feel going on a date with someone that looked like they just graduated secondary school. Gary Unwin sauntered out onto the stage, throwing the crowd a dimpled grin and flirtatious wink. The tuxedo he wore looked as if it were ready to rip at the seams, the shoulders stretched taught.
He could hear Merlin in his ear now. Don’t ye dare set me up with some bairn that’s barely broken in his milk teeth. I don’t need anybody, ye meddlesome berk.
Harry raised his hand at five hundred. Merlin most certainly needed a date, even with someone twenty-years his younger. Perhaps someone young would do Merlin good—maybe do what Harry couldn’t and actually coax the beast out of his cave.
Beverly fumbled at Harry’s hand, but kept the bid rolling. She focused heavily on the women bidding, but Harry kept raising his hand. Gary watched him, viridian eyes sparkling curiously as Harry hiked the bid by the hundreds.
Percival returned to see his side when the bid reached a thousand. “Oh he’s lovely. Merlin?” Harry nodded and raised his hand, countering the bid and raising it to twelve hundred. “Merlin will owe you a very big thank you.”
“He can consider this his Christmas and birthday present,” Harry said. “For the next two years.”
Percival chuckled. The woman Harry was competing against raised her hand again, and Harry promptly countered. “Fifteen hundred.”
Gary whistled low. “Fuck me, bruv.”
“Gary,” Beverly gasped.
“Oh sod off. The toff bastard wants a date that bad, then let him win.”
Gary winked at Harry before slipping behind the curtain. Beverly laughed nervously, her grip on the microphone tightening. “Thank you all who bid. We’ll be announcing the winners of the silent auction in ten minutes. If the winners of the ‘win a date’ could see me.”
Well, Harry certainly hadn’t expected that.
“Oh, I like him,” Percival said, and Harry could hear the grin in his voice, even without looking at him. Harry shook his head, tearing his gaze away from the stage. He may have made a miscalculation—Gary may be too much for Merlin to handle.
“I don’t know,” Harry said.
“Nonsense.” Percival patted Harry’s arm. “He’ll be perfect. Besides, it’s one date, right?”
“Was Roxy very mad?” Harry asked. He started to make his way through the crowd, walking towards Beverly, who stood at the foot of the stairs leading up to the stage.
“She pretended to be, but I think she’s a bit grateful she doesn’t have to go on an awkward blind date,” Percival said. “Of course now she can’t blow us off for Sunday dinner.”
Harry hummed and fished out his cheque book from his inner pocket. The woman who won the bid on Charlie gleefully handed over her payment. Beverly turned to Harry and Percival, her Botox bloated cheeks straining beneath her smile. “Congratulations, Mr. Hart and Mister…”
“Hart,” Harry added.
Beverly’s eyebrows shot up. She looked between them, her smile wilting into a pinched frown. “Mr. Hart,” She amended. “We’ve never had such… generous donors.”
“It’s a cause we care deeply for,” Harry said. He clicked his pen and scrawled out the cheque. “One would think an organization would invest the money used to plan this gala towards the actual cause, but thankfully you chose to host this lovely evening. I may be twelve hundred short, but I won a date with a delightful young man. Very progressive.”
Beverly’s frown grew deeper and deeper with each passing second. Percival elbowed Harry in the side and handed over his cheque. “Thank you again,” Percival said, before grabbing Harry’s arm and dragging him away.
“What did I do?” Harry asked, blinking innocently.
“Don’t give me that look,” Percival said.
“Oi, y’ the guy that won a date wif me?” Harry turned to face Gary, who made his way through the crowd, brandishing a glass of champagne in one hand and cheeky grin on his lips.
“I am. And you must be Gary.”
“Call me Eggsy,” Eggsy said. He raised his glass. “Cheers, mate. Can’t thank y’ enough for your donation. Y’re a real govnor for helping us out. Swear down, didn’t expect many people to bid on me.”
“Not horribly disappointed a man won?” Harry asked.
Eggsy shrugged and took a sip of champagne. “Don’t matter to me. So when do y’ want to do this?”
“Actually, I was wondering if you’d be horribly upset if I made a small change.”
Eggsy narrowed his eyes, glancing briefly to Percival. “Look, y’ both are fit as fuck,”—Harry coughed and Percival choked back a laugh—“but I don’t do threesomes. Well there was that one time, but that—”
“I wasn’t suggesting a threesome,” Harry cut him off. “My husband isn’t one for sharing.”
“Husband?” Eggsy cocked a brow. “Y’ two are? Oh, well. All right then.” He raised his glass again. “Cheers to y’.”
“Thank you,” Percival said, voice twinkling with laughter. Harry snaked an arm around Harry’s waist and tugged him close. “I’m Percival, by the way. And this is Harry.”
“Pleasure,” Eggsy said and held out his free hand. “Wait, Percival? As in Uncle Percy?”
“Ah, so I see Roxy has mentioned me,” Percival said with a grimace. “That would be me.”
“Well fuck, it’s a real pleasure,” Eggsy stammered out as he shook Percival’s hand hard. “Rox talks about y’ all the time. Y’ work for MI5, right? Man, the things she’s said about y’. Did y’ really prevent that plot for Prime Minister Cameron?”
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Percival said, carefully extracting his hand from Eggsy’s, who was still shaking his arm. “We have a friend, he works with Harry. We were wondering if you’d be interested in going out with him in lieu of Harry.”
Eggsy shrugged. “Sure, don’t matter to me. Y’ got a pen?”
Harry withdrew his pen and handed it to Eggsy. Eggsy snitched a napkin from a passing waiter and jotted down a number. “Here are my digits. Just text me the bloke’s information.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Eggsy,” Harry said, accepting the napkin. He folded it carefully and tucked it into his inner pocket.
Eggsy gave them a weak salute as he turned to walk off. “Ta.”
“Well he’s interesting,” Percival commented when Eggsy was gone.
“A bit rough around the edges.”
“Hmm,” Percival turned into him and kissed his cheek. “If I recall, you use to like it with a… oh what was that saying, a bit o’ rough?”
“I still do.” Harry squeezed Percival’s hip.
“Well maybe tonight when I have you tied up, I can show you how rough I can be,” Percival purred, drawing Harry’s earlobe between his teeth.
Harry shuddered, digging his fingers into Percival’s side. A shot of hunger lanced through his stomach, straight to his thickening cock.
“Do we need to wait for the silent auction?” Harry asked, tone dropping an octave.
“Mmm, I think we’ve made our contribution,” Percival murmured, moist breath ghosting along Harry’s jaw.
Harry grabbed Percival’s hand and sprinted for the exit.
* * * *
Merlin didn’t get up when there was a knock at the door. He ignored the loud rapping and continued to type out the intricate coding he’d been working on for the last hour. Anyone of importance would know the security clearances to get into his apartment. Five minutes later—and he knew this because he began counting in his head after the first knock—the door to his office opened and Harry walked in, a bottle of scotch dangling from one hand and two tumblers in the other.
“You know, the appropriate thing to do when one is knocking at your door, is to answer it,” Harry said. He walked over to Merlin’s desk and set the glasses down on the edge.
“I’m busy and ye know how to let yerself in,” Merlin pointed out, only pausing in typing to accept the glass Harry handed him. “I don’t know why ye even bother knocking, ye know I won’t answer.”
“Because a gentleman never enters unannounced.” Harry folded himself into a low back leather chair, crossing his long legs at the knee. He swirled the scotch in his glass, amber prisms scattering across the top of the desk, and smiled at Merlin.
“Ye made that up.” Merlin rolled his eyes.
“Perhaps, but it’s still very rude to leave a guest knocking at your door, or worse, put them through a gauntlet just to get in. Did you up your security?”
“It was getting too easy for ye,” Merlin said. He leaned back in his seat, studying Harry, who picked a piece of dust off his pant leg. He narrowed his gaze. “What have ye done?”
“Done? What would give you such an idea?”
Merlin snorted and set his glass down. He turned back to his computer, grumbling under his breath, “I don’t know, maybe because I’ve known ye for over twenty years, and anytime ye get that doe-eyed look, I wind up with ‘naughty slut’ tattooed across my arse.”
“That was one time, and if I remember correctly, you were the one that bought the last three shots.”
“Yes, but ye suggested the tattoos.”
“It isn’t like I didn’t get one that night as well.” Harry took another drink, hiding a smirk.
“Ye got a small ‘P’ on your hip, that doesn’t count.” Merlin added another like of coding.
“Percival enjoys it.”
“I’m sure he does. Now what did ye do?” Merlin looked over the screen at Harry, eyebrows raised. He didn’t stop typing. The only time Harry got a contrite look was when he knew Merlin would say no. He thought if he went doe-eyed, he might soften Merlin up, but after twenty years of disarming smiles and backwards logic, Merlin had grown immune to Harry’s charms.
“Did I tell you about the gala Percival and I went to for Roxy?” Harry placed his glass next to Merlin’s. “The women’s association held a charity event for the fire station. Dreadfully boring, but they had some wonderful prizes auctioned off.”
“Ye came to bother me about that?” Merlin dropped his gaze back to the monitor. “It couldn’t wait for tomorrow?”
“No, and don’t be so obtuse,” Harry said. “Aren’t I allowed to spend time with my dear friend—who insists on sequestering himself in his house like a character in a Stephen King novel?”
“I do not.”
“You do,” Harry insisted. “When was the last time you went out?”
“I went to your house for dinner last Sunday,” Merlin stated with a triumphant smirk.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, popping by for Sunday supper is quite the event. I mean out as in out, like a date.”
Merlin opened his mouth, but when he couldn’t come up with a date, he snapped his mouth closed and glared.
“That’s what I thought,” Harry said with a sniff. “You haven’t been on one since you broke up with Ronan. And that was three years ago.”
Harry held up his hand, cutting Merlin off. “Don’t even try to argue. I see you every day, I know.”
“And what’s the point of all this?” Merlin leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I got you a date—with a fireman, I might add.”
“And how did ye manage that? Picked one out in the crowd?” Merlin trusted Harry with his life, but that didn’t mean he trusted Harry’s word.
“Ah, see, that’s the thing. I maybe have won it in an auction.” Harry picked up his glass and drained the last of his Scotch.
“Won?” Why wasn’t Merlin surprised? “No, absolutely not. I’m not going on a date ye paid for.”
“He’s handsome and funny, and he sounded very interested.”
“Oh did he? I somehow doubt that. No, and that’s final. Now get out, I have work to do.”
“It’s either go on the date or I finally let James set you up. The only reason he hasn’t is because I threatened him with bodily harm after the Bors fiasco.”
Merlin shuddered. Before he met Ronan, he’d agreed to go out with James’s friend Bors. While Bors was a decent enough fellow, he had an affinity for explosives. By the end of the date, Merlin ended up covered in soot and facing arson charges.
“Fine,” Merlin grumbled. “I’ll go on the bloody date, but afterwards ye leave me be, understood?”
“Whatever you say.” Harry stood and reached into his pocket. He withdrew a card and set it down between the crystal tumblers. “Here are the details. Do wear something other than that ratty sweater.”
Merlin looked down at his frayed green sweater and pulled at a loose thread. “What’s wrong with this?” Harry gave him a deadpanned look. Merlin sighed heavily through his nose. “Fine. I’ll make sure to put on something pretty, will that please ye?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “I expect a full report the next day. Percival will make crepes.”
Merlin waved him off, grumbling under his breath about meddling busy bodies. Harry left, closing the door behind him. Merlin picked up the card Harry set down. It was his business card and scrawled on the back in neat cursive was the time, date, and place.
Merlin shook his head and set the card back down, swapping it for his glass of scotch. He drained the rest of his drink. A date? The scotch in his stomach solidified into a hard amber stone.
There was a reason he didn’t date. He wasn’t exactly a people person. What had Ronan called him? A cyborg reject for the Turing Test.
One date. Just one date. Then he can go back to what he understood: computers. Merlin set his empty glass down on the card.