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Love on a Wire

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They were rock stars in another life. That’s what Merlin tells him when they’re opening up the record store for the first time as co-owners and not as snotty little kids ruining Gaius’s good mood. He tells Arthur that he was definitely the lead singer because he has that look that would make teenage girls tattoo his autograph into their skin. And he would be the drummer because he doesn’t really want anyone to see him but he like the way the music feels and Will would be their guitarist that isn’t really that good but they keep him around anyway because he has this parasitic way of growing on people.

In this life, they are not rock stars. They still fail to match their clothing properly and Merlin’s still wearing a pair of black converses he’s had since he was sixteen. They’re more of a greyish color these days and the rubber sole flaps open at the toe. Arthur tells him it looks like his shoes are having a conversation with him.

Arthur hasn’t owned proper underwear since his nanny was still buying clothing for him and you would swear that they collectively had twenty pound between them. But they’re happy, Merlin works too hard, Arthur tries to ignore his past as what Will likes to call “A debonair motherfucker” and Will is just happy to have a job that doesn’t include him picking up trash on the side of the road.

Gaius calls them that first day five total times. The first three times he is in a state of borderline panic and Merlin tells him that the store is under attack only two of those times. The fourth time he calls to ask about his favorite Pink Floyd album and the fifth time he is laying out in the sun with his wife, Alice, telling Merlin that he’ll be missing for the next week.

Morgana comes in with a handheld camcorder later and films them doing mundane things, like eating lunch and ringing up customers until Will chases her away with his offensive pick up lines. It’s a long day and Merlin feels tired afterwards, but it’s a good day and if he doesn’t notice the way Arthur keeps close to his side and lets his eyes linger on his lips when he’s talking, then it’s just one less thing.

The summer of 2010 is the year it finally takes a turn for something mundane and then awful and then perfect.

 

Hello again, Friend of a friend,
I knew you when.
Our common goal, was waiting for,
The world to end.
Now that the truth, is just a rule, that you can bend.
You crack the whip, shape shift and trick, the past again.

I’ll send you my love on a wire,
Lift you up, every time.

Arthur’s life becomes complicated in what he will always remember as the beginning. Not the beginning of their lives or even the first time they met and Merlin had offered up his freshly pulled tooth into Arthur’s upturned hand as an odd sort of gift of friendship. The beginning for Arthur is really the first time he looked at Merlin and didn’t think ‘friend’ but instead thought, ‘love’.

They were fourteen -well, Arthur was almost fifteen, really- and Arthur watched as the boy next store kissed Merlin. It wasn’t the hard knot of jealousy alone that did it, but the way Merlin’s Red Hot Chili Pepper’s shirt bunched up and showed off the small of his back. It was how soft and inviting his lips looked when being kissed and his eyelashes fluttered closed against his cheeks.

He would see Merlin later that day after school, when they would meet up at the record store and harass Gaius to let them listen to the albums that said parental guidance on them, in the back room. Arthur would watch Merlin sing along to The Smiths and try not to blush when Arthur asked him about the whole ‘kissing that boy’ business. Merlin had wrinkled his nose and told Arthur that the boy -he’s vaguely aware that Merlin is referring to him as James- tried to stick his tongue in his mouth and he ended up licking his teeth. “Not much of a turn on if you ask me.” He rolled his eyes and it made Arthur laugh, even as he thought to himself, ‘I would never lick Merlin’s teeth if I was kissing him.’

And then their lives continued onward in that uneventful way that most people’s lives do, with Merlin changing out boyfriends like underwear and Arthur trying out girls and finding out that it really wasn’t his thing at all. Merlin’s mum, Hunith passes away their first year of college and Arthur learns how to bake cinnamon cookies because they’re Merlin’s favorite and they make him smile. Then they graduate and Gaius gives Merlin the record store, lovingly named Spin Cycle, and reminds Arthur that Merlin’s going to need all the help he can get, and that he better put that Accounting degree to good use.

Which brings them to now

They look like two homeless people, huddled together on the sidewalk outside the record shop, in clothes that look like they collectively rolled through a laundry basket. The sun hasn’t even risen completely and it’s a Monday. Which is why Merlin, in this early morning hour, cannot comprehend that he’s looking down at his coworkers. “What happened?” He tries to ask them calmly but only ends up sounding annoyed.

Will picks at the knee of his plaid pants and flicks the ashes of his cigarette onto the cement. “Nothing, nothing, just waiting for you to open shop and all that.” Merlin stares at him.

“Coffee.” Arthur clears his throat and lifts a takeaway cup into the air “We brought you coffee.”

Merlin then takes his time to stare at Arthur, who is beaming up at him in a holey Endless Summer shirt. He waits until Arthur gets uncomfortable and starts to shift around a bit before he takes the coffee out of his hands with a great sigh and shakes his keys. “Alright, get up. When I settle in, you two are going to tell me what’s going on.”

“Hey –“ Will starts to protest and Merlin spins around on his heels, narrowing his eyes dangerously at him.

“I am not going to believe that you two just so happened to be at work, not only on time, but early,” He looks Arthur over, “and with coffee –when you both insist on shuffling in here at least twenty minutes late for the past twelve years.” To be fair it had probably been at least fifteen years for Arthur, but Merlin likes to think he had at least some punctuality when he was five years old and sitting behind the counter with Merlin, when Merlin’s uncle Gaius ran the record store.

Gaius had opened the shop back in the sixties and had been doing a sort of hands on training with Merlin over the years in hopes that he would take it over once he graduated from Uni. And here he is, twenty five years old and still keeping Spin Cycle Records afloat. Well, not alone. Definitely not alone. See, for all of Arthur’s seeming laziness and inclination to be an all around prat, he’s some sort of math/accounting genius. Merlin only has to push the stack of bills from the shop in front of Arthur and leave him alone for an hour with a calculator and suddenly Arthur’s saved them thousands for the month. Merlin also finds it nice having his best friend around all the time, not that Arthur has to know that.

Will is mostly useless except for his affinity for anarchy and running headlong into things, which makes him the greatest security. He’s taken down his fair share of shoplifters, and he’s good for laugh.

“I’ve got inventory I need by the beginning of next week, the list is in there for you.” Merlin slides a stack of papers across the counter to Arthur and turns to flip on the lights. He collapses back into an office chair that had migrated into the store some years ago and presses the warm cup of coffee against his forehead. “Alright, I’m ready, tell me what you need.”

Arthur and Will exchange a look and Will rocks back and forth on his feet. “Soooo, you know how we were talking about setting this place up for live shows but we didn’t have the wiring for it or whatever the fuck it is you said and then Arthur was all, ‘Ergh, we have no money for that or we’ll have to sling crack on the corner’.” Unsurprisingly, Arthur doesn’t dispute that, only nods and keeps a pleading look on his face. “Well we know someone who’ll do it for no pay at all.”

There’s something amiss, Merlin can sense it in the way his two friends have yet to start hitting each other anywhere in this discussion. “Okay,” Merlin leans back heavily in his chair, “who is going to rewire our entire store, and set up a sound system in here –because, mind you, our entire audio output is fucked –and do it for no pay?”

Arthur casts his eyes to the ceiling, jaw set tight and Will let’s out a low whine. “Cenred.”

The silence between the three of them is heavy with tension and possibly a promise of violence and it spans on and on until Merlin scrubs his hands over his face and let’s out a humorless laugh. “That’s funny, I thought you said Cenred. As in Cenred my ex. As in Cenred who you claim ‘fell into your fist’ nine times.” He snaps his fingers in Arthur’s face and he’s surprised Arthur’s not in pain from how hard he’s grinding his teeth. “What does he want, Arthur?”

“See, it’s actual –“ Will starts but Merlin shoves his face away with his hand.

“I asked Arthur. You’re only going to sugar coat it and try to make it sound like he’s going to give me a free puppy.” He looks back at Arthur, “What does he want?”

Arthur sighs heavily through his nose and he lets his eyes flick up to meet Merlin’s for a moment and mutters, “a date.”

It’s a tall order coming from Cenred, who never took Merlin on a date when he was his boyfriend, and he’s almost certain Cered’s not planning a candle lit dinner. Merlin takes a moment to collect himself. He knows Arthur would rather shove an ice pick up his own arse than talk to Cenred, and Will has been listening to Merlin blather on about how great live shows would be if they cleared out the back room for well over two years now. It’s a sweet thought, if a little misguided. “Thank you for trying to make this a thing –Arthur, I hope you have no new assault charges –but I can tell you now that Cenred is not looking to hold my hand and walk with me through the park and tell me how special he thinks I am. And I’m really not interested in being hate fucked into his floor.” He tacks on the last part to make sure they fully understand his point. It’s for Will mostly, these things tend to get past him. He pats Will’s cheek, who pulls roughly on Merlin’s hair and disappears to his favorite stake out spot and Arthur grabs the inventory papers off of the counter, making his way around to get a calculator and pencil. “I feel like that was Will’s idea, was that Will’s idea?” Merlin asks while Arthur digs around behind boxes of receipt paper. He wonders if Arthur knows he has an indecent amount of crack showing and if he should tell him to start wearing underwear.

Arthur looks up at him from the floor, dust clinging to the ends of his blond fringe and rolls his eyes. “I told him it was the shittest of all the ideas he has ever had ever. He wouldn’t listen though, said he could charm him into a reasonable price.” Arthur hikes his corduroys up. “He made me wait in the car. But I’m really glad you said no. I mean, Cenred was like the worst thing that ever happened to you and I really don’t fancy getting stitches in my hand a second time.” He pulls Merlin into a tight hug and these are so rare due to Arthur’s emotional constipation that Merlin finds himself wrapping his arms around Arthur’s neck. “He just made you so –sad.”

“Stop making out, I’m gonna yarf all over the place.” Will shouts from behind the rack of ‘Contemporary Folk’ music and then proceeds to make dramatic vomiting noises. And just like that, Arthur is back to physically reserved and leaves Merlin with a punch to the shoulder. Merlin thinks about firing Will for the third time this morning.

“Right, thanks” Merlin yells across the store and watches Arthur retreat to the employee lounge to work numbers.

Unsurprisingly, Morgana is the first person through their door, setting off the chime that Arthur had rigged to play La Cucaracha three summers ago. She moves stealthily in her six-inch heels and Merlin feels a little concerned when she leans easily against the counter. “Looking for a music fix?” He grins at her and she kisses him on the cheek.

“You look tired, Merlin, why don’t you come out with us this weekend? And don’t say it’s because of work, this place isn’t even open on Sundays.” Morgana quickly adds.

Merlin lets out a soft laugh. “I guess I can’t tell you that I need to work on finding a new vendor for guitar strings this weekend?”

Morgana can’t even hold back the look of pitying judgment. “No. And that’s a really shit excuse, make my brother do that, he seems to have nothing productive to do when he’s not at work.”

“Alright, for a little bit then.” Merlin scratches at his jaw before he reaches underneath his counter and produces a vinyl. “Picked this up for you. Santigold –it’s a great album I think you’ll get into it.”

“You’ve never failed me before.” She studies the album with a satisfied smirk. “So where is my sweet, loving, hygienic baby brother?”

Merlin jerks his thumb behind him at the closed door of the lounge. “He’s actually doing work right now, do you still want me to get him?” Morgana just gives Merlin a pleading look. “Yeah, alright.” He shuffles into the lounge, where Arthur is sitting cross-legged on the floor, hand shoved roughly into his hair, giving him a slightly deranged appearance. Merlin clears his throat, “You look like a werewolf.”

Arthur’s surprised look slides into one of seduction and he narrows his eyes. “You into that sort of thing?”

Merlin tilts his head, “Baby,” he nods to the door, “your sister is here.”

“Well now I’m sufficiently turned off.” Arthur huffs out, knees popping when he stands up. Although, he can’t fight off the laughter when he walks out to find Will orbiting Morgana, prattling on about his new found guitar prowess. It’s been a tragic love story between them, of boy loves girl, girl would rather scratch her own skin off. “Oh, Morgana, I don’t want to intrude on your conversation.”

Morgana throws him the nastiest look she can muster. “Will was just telling me about his new guitar. What I would like to talk about with you –and your ninety year old boss here” Merlin actually catches on that she’s not talking about Gaius and blurts out ‘Hey!’ but Morgana is on her own time and she talks right over him, “Is about setting up this place so that you guys can start playing some live music. Everyone loves you guys, this is the go to record store around town, and I think you should really up what you’re doing here.”

“Believe me when I say, this has been a topic of discussion for a long time. Just this morning I was propositioned to have sex with Cenred for a free re-wiring of the store.” Merlin shoots a rude gesture at Will.

“Ew, you said no, right?” Morgana looks scandalized at the sound of Cenred’s name.

“I said no.” Merlin reassures her. “But the problem still stands –none of us are well versed in sub woofers or surround sound and acoustics, and Arthur’s technical prowess doesn’t extend past the –“ He motions vaguely at the door chime.

Said chime goes off and a group of teens file through the door. Merlin shoos Will away from the counter to go patrolling, or whatever it is he does, and gives Morgana and apologetic smile. “No worries, I’m going to talk to a few friends of mine, see what sort of price range we can put this little home improvement project at.” She tucks her new record up under her arm and offers a hurried goodbye. One that Arthur and Merlin can’t be offended by because they know it’s a hasty escape from Will, mouth breathing all over her.

“Hey, when are you gonna stop selling cassette tapes?” Merlin’s attention is dragged to the person leaning against the counter. Mordred. He’d showed up at Spin Cycle right before Merlin had gone away for school, just a snot nosed little kid with an attitude to rival Morgana. Now he had grown up and become a fully realized douche, but in a charming way that made it so that none of the employees had banned him from ever coming through the front door. He was their douche.

“Mordred.” Merlin clasps his hands delightedly on the counter in front of him. “You’re simply too young to understand the delicate art of an EP recorded on a cassette. Art, Mordred.” He leans forward into Mordred’s face before flicking him on the nose.

Slinging the nearest item on the counter at Merlin –a guitar tuner –he mutters something about ‘hipster bullshit’ and drops an admittedly decent Queen’s of the Stone Age CD next to the register. “Hey, beautiful I’m done with the –Mordred!” Arthur skips up next to Merlin and haphazardly drops the folder of papers on the ground by their feet.

Mordred looks on the verge of hissing at Arthur. “You’re still alive,” he says dully. “Right, well, I’m going to leave you to your cassettes and –whatever it is you do, Arthur.” He leaves a hefty tip in the jar and moves through the front door like he’s on fire.

“He likes us, I know he does. He gets off thinking about you.” Merlin watches the door where Mordred practically vaporized away.

“Hmmm.” Arthur scratches idly at his chest. “Wait, what about cassettes?”

Merlin begins to mindlessly ring up a customer, “I was telling Mordred that there is a subtle art to cassettes. Mixed tapes and the sorts. He just doesn’t understand the love that’s put into them, you know?”

“ ‘S a shame how hard it is to come by a decent tape deck these days.” The customer chimes in and Merlin positively beams at him, like his people have finally come to take him back to his home planet.

He hardly notices when Will clothes lines a kid making a dash to the emergency exit.

#

Age 19

Cenred makes it known to Arthur that he absolutely hates him and that it is his personal mission in life to make him as uncomfortable as possible. And Merlin is stupidly smitten with him.

“Do you always look this incredibly sexy when you go out?” Cenred leans against the bar top where Merlin is sitting next to Arthur.

Arthur rolls his eyes but Merlin just stutters out a combination of noises and blushes. “I know you just got here, but we’ve already been around for a few hours, so we were gonna head back now. Sorry, mate, se you around.” Arthur grabs Merlin’s elbow and is met with resistance.

Cenred has his arm wrapped tightly around Merlin’s waist and Arthur feels the sudden urge to growl at him. “You can head back whenever your heart desires, Pendragon, but I’m having a chat with Merlin here.” His voice has a threatening tone to it.

Merlin pardons himself for a moment and pulls Arthur aside. “Arthur, I think Cenred is really into me, I want to hang around for a little while.”

“Of course he’s into you.” Arthur whispers harshly, “He’s also a massive tool, don’t give him your time.”

Merlin looks uneasy and he glances back at Cenred, who just shoots him a coy grin. “I don’t know, I just -he actually likes me, Arthur.”

Arthur wants to scream at him “I actually like you! What about me? Let me like you.” Instead he just sighs and nods his head. “Alright, well call me if you need me.”

Later that night, while Arthur’s lying in bed, he tries really hard to ignore the way his eyes burn when he hears Cenred fucking Merlin in the room next to his.

#

Apparently it’s been far too long since Merlin has gone out with his mates. At least sixty years, according to Gwaine. He brings Merlin a pint and watches carefully as he drinks it. “I’m ensuring the maximum amount of funness you exude tonight.” Gwaine explains before tossing back a shot of tequila.

“I’m fun.” Merlin protests

“No you used to be fun. And we all still hold out hope that underneath your ancient, moth eaten exterior, you are still the same young man that let our entire floor at uni do body shots off of you.” Gwaine wraps an arm around Merlin’s shoulders.

Merlin blushes, and thankfully no one notices in the foggy bar lighting. “Well since you make such a convincing argument.” He mutters and throws back a shot. Arthur is watching him and slacking on his best friend duties and Merlin shoots him a look that he hopes comes across as “Don’t just sit there, Judas, help me out.”

Instead, Arthur tilts his head to the side and says, “Are you still interested in body shots?”

Merlin scowls at him and it just sends Arthur into a fit of childish laughter. Will, drains the rest of Arthur’s drink while he’s distracted. “You laugh like a donkey.” He shakes his finger idly at Arthur before he turns his attention back to Merlin. “So tell me, why is it that I haven’t seen you outside of Spin Cycle’s in at least two months?”

“That’s not true.” Merlin starts but fails to put any conviction behind it.

“When’s the last time you got laid, mate?” Gwaine asks seriously.

“I don’t know –it’s –whatever, it’s not a big thing.” Merlin pushes Gwaine a few inches away from him, “I don’t know why you guys are so concerned about me. Yeah, I get it, I spend a lot of time at the record store, but it’s important to me. This is my life, it’s the only thing I’ve ever had that I’m really good at. People love Spin Cycle, and it’s doing better now that it did even when Gaius opened it.” He puts on a shaky smile, “and I’m happy. I get to work with my friends and listen to music all day, so yes, I’m happy.”

An uncomfortable silence spread across them when finally Arthur kicks at Merlin’s beat up converse under the table. “Yeah, alright, thanks for making us all feel bad.” He teases, and Merlin can see the silent apology on his face.

Gwaine leans over slowly until his head bangs against Merlin’s and laughs, “So please tell me you lot are all going to see Bloc Party next month at The Underground. Live shows just don’t seem right without you vagrants around.”

Arthur raises his eyebrows at Merlin, “I’ll get your ticket for you, since I know you’re going to go on and on about how you don’t have the money.”

“Or maybe it’s because your old man has all the money.” Will smirks at him and gets a sugar packet thrown at his face.

Merlin gives him a lazy thumbs up as an okay and Gwaine gets restlessly excited in his seat. “Just like old times.”

“You should ask Morgana to go with you” Merlin gives Will a serious look. “I saw you chatting her up the other day.”

Will practically melts into the pleather bar seat. “Ugh, did you see her though looking like the temptress she is in that dress.”

“Hey!” Arthur smacks him on the face.

“I almost regret baiting him like that.” Merlin mutters into his glass while Arthur and Will get into blows with each other. “Almost.”

Gwaine laughs, “It’s good to see you around again. I mean that. Life’s not as fun without my favorite gay homewrecker.”

“That was one time!” Merlin cries, “And I didn’t know he had a wife.”

Gwaine slaps him on the back, “No matter, come on ladies, let’s go play some pool before the other drunks beat us to it.”

After enough drunken pool to send Will into a rage and break his pool stick, Gwaine had escorted him home and Merlin made a quick excuse about needing to catch up on some sleep. And that’s how a couple hours later Arthur found himself with his hood pulled up over his head and his hands dug deep into the pockets as he stood outside Spin Cycle.

It’s barely three in the morning and he can see the faint glow of light from the employee lounge through the shop front window. He sighs and produces his key ring out of his back pocket, slipping through the door as quietly as possible.

Merlin has a Bright Eyes album playing on low volume and he’s slouched over an open notebook. “Conor Oberst? Now I know there’s something wrong.” Arthur leans against the doorframe and Merlin startles. “What are you doing here, Merlin?”

Merlin presses his fingers into his eyes. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“See, I wasn’t quite ready to call it a night, and thought maybe I would go for a walk and work off some of the alcohol. So imagine my surprise when I passed by here and saw the light on.” Arthur sits down on the floor across from Merlin.

“I just –“ Merlin pushes the notebook towards Arthur, “I was thinking about the whole rewiring and sound system thing and I thought I would see what are budget will allow. Arthur, if we buy the parts ourselves, I can figure out how to do it and we would only be using thirty percent of our savings.”

Looking over the notebook, Arthur squints his eyes to focus on the numbers. He makes a thoughtful noise, “Yeah, it looks that way. But how are you going to do this yourself? You can hardly work your dishwasher.”

Merlin snorts, “Well I was looking up some of it online, and all of the wires are color coordinated so it really shouldn’t be that hard. I thought I could stop by the bookstore and see if they have anything in their technology section.”

The music drifts around the room while Arthur flips through the notebook, examining all of their numbers and options carefully. “I’ll help you. I set up the door chime, I’m sure I can add something to this.”

“It’ll be like old times.” Merlin tucks his knees up under his chin.

“What like the time we rewired an entire building? Yeah that was great.” Flopping back on the carpet Arthur lets out a great sigh.

Merlin throws his pencil at Arthur. “Yes that time. Don’t get cheeky. I’m talking about all the things we made and did. We built a tree fort out of wood pallets when we were only seven.”

“Or more importantly when we made origami shot glasses out of our term papers.” Arthur tilts his head towards Merlin seriously. He leans back against the uneven filing cabinet and tries not to think about how tired he feels from the late hour and the alcohol and hums along to the music. “There is no one as lucky, Honey, don’t you weep. There is nothing as lucky, as easy or free.” He sings lazily. Merlin’s small laugh brings him back and he watches Merlin tap the invisible keys of his piano on the harshly stained carpet.

“Never knew you were a Bright Eyes kind of guy.” He pulls the sleeves of his hoodie down over his hands a little and Arthur can’t help but follow the motion with his eyes. His fingers twitch as he fights the urge to reach out and run the tips of his fingers over Merlin’s soft looking palms.

“Well,” Arthur sniffs and settles for running his hands over his knees, “I’ve had my fair share of heartbreak.”

Merlin leans backwards awkwardly and switches out the current music for a suspiciously familiar looking burnt CD with a drawing of a dick-turned-llama on it. Predictably it starts with El Scorcho by Weezer and Arthur buries his face in his hands and laughs.

They spend hours on the floor, listening to music they hadn’t thought of since they were awkwardly stumbling through puberty and laughing until their faces hurt. They get into it about whether Mordred is trying to get with Arthur or Merlin. Merlin boldly suggests that maybe it’s Will he sticks around for and Arthur takes great offense and declares Will a social pariah and then they find themselves laying on the floor with their shoulders touching. Arthur keeps his hands clasped on his chest. “I haven’t seen you with anyone since we left school.” Merlin shifts next to him, “I mean like dating.”

“Oh, you just don’t come out enough to witness all of the anonymous sex I’m having in bathroom stalls and the backs of clubs.” Arthur says.

“You hate clubs.” Merlin reminds him. “Aren’t you lonely?”

Arthur turns towards him and studies his face. There’s a moment of silence, maybe out of respect for their failure love lives, then finally Arthur says, “I don’t know, sometimes if I’m thinking about it. Are you?” he swallows hard, “Lonely, I mean?”

Merlin lets out something that sounds like a laugh but it’s entirely without mirth. “Yeah, I think maybe I am.”

#

The next morning, the chalkboard on the wall behind the register reads IF YOU WANT TO GET INTO MERLIN’S PANTS, MAKE HIM A MIXED TAPE, in Will’s awful scrawl and this is the start of the slow seduction that Merlin never saw coming. Morgana calls it his musical sexual awakening.

The message stays up for a week and Merlin thinks nothing of it until he’s sifting through the mail that’s come through their drop box when something clatters loudly onto the counter. He picks it up and examines the hard plastic casing of a cassette tape. The track insert has a hand drawn cover of a ship sailing through a sea of vinyl records. Someone has lovingly taken their time with it, even making lightning out of carefully carved out pieces of foil. Merlin doesn’t realize he’s mindlessly staring at the tape until Will loudly asks him, “What is that?”

Merlin opens it to see the track listing inside, nestled carefully against the actual tape with the title strip reading “Synth or Swim”, and a list of all the songs involved. All of them including a synth. Merlin feels a grin pull at the corner of his mouth and he mutters ‘clever’ under his breath before Will snatches it out of his hand. “Oi, what are you doing?”

“Well you wouldn’t fucking answer me” Will growls and dumps the tape into his hand, a small scrap of paper fluttering to the ground. Will grumbles about a ‘stupid ass junk tape’ when he reaches down to pick up the note. Merlin watches his expression change from annoyed to devious as he flicks the paper at him. “Looks like it’s for you, mate. Your own prince charming that read our little message.”

The words are letters from a newspaper cut out like a ransom note. ‘Merlin, We lie beneath the stars at night, our hands gripping each other tight. You keep my secrets, hope to die. Promises, swear them to the sky’, Merlin feels heat spreading across his cheeks and he chews at his lip. Someone’s made him an actual mixed tape. Someone cares enough about him to actually make him a mixed tape. And they even put the lyrics to Young Blood in it. He pockets it and pushes Will’s hands off of the counter, “Get to work.”

“Oh ho ho,” Will bounces on his toes, “Don’t be like that, let’s listen to it.”

Merlin stares at him a moment and decides, what the hell. “Alright, I’ll put it on.” He can’t fight back the smile when Will starts laughing joyfully.

Arthur wanders in ten minutes late and hardly has time to make it to the backroom before Will come skipping, skipping, at him and says “Someone made Merlsy a mixed tape because they are trying to woo him and want to make sweet sweet love to –“

“Will!” Merlin kicks Will’s shoe while he’s mid step and Will has a blow out, falling into the table.

Arthur just has an amused expression on his face and points to the speakers, “This it?”

Merlin mumbles out a confirmation and Will throws himself breathlessly into a chair. “He’s all embarrassed. You should see it though, they made this fancy cover and wrote a poem for him.”

“It was song lyrics.”

“Whatever, the important thing is that someone wants Merlin to be naked around them.” Will finishes.

“Why do you have to be so crass? It’s a really sweet gesture and someone put a lot of thought into it.” Merlin pulls shyly at the threads coming off of his sleeve.

Arthur and Will watch him in silence until Arthur finally clears his throat and says, “Yeah but they probably also want to shag you.”

They both fall into stupor of mindless giggling. It always makes Merlin uncomfortable when Arthur and Will are being friendly with each other. He makes them both scrub the toilets at the end of the night.

#

Age 12

“My favorite band is Rush.” Arthur announces to Merlin who is sprawled across his bed with a pair of giant headphones on.

He looks at Arthur like he has a flesh eating disease on his face. “Huh?” He takes the headphones off

“I said, that my favorite band is Rush. I was thinking about it last night and they have the best technical work and they were kind of dorks when they were in school.” Arthur says to him and Merlin just laughs.

“Just because they have a lot of talent doesn’t mean they have to be your favorite. Your favorite band is the one that you can listen to all of their albums and all of their songs and there’s really not a track you want to skip.” Merlin tells him and Arthur wrinkles his nose.

“What’s your favorite band then?” Arthur leaps up onto the bed next to Merlin.

Merlin leans his chin into his hand, “Blink 182” he answers easily.

“I should’ve guessed that one.” Arthur sighs. “What are you listening to now?”

Merlin loosens the sides of his headphones and slips one side over his right ear and the other side over Arthur’s left so that their heads are pressed together. “The Cure. Uncle Gaius gave it to me today. He gave me these headphones too, aren’t they neat?”

“It makes you look like an airplane conductor.” Arthur laughs, “But I like them. Turn it up though I can hardly hear it.” He demands, pushing the volume button to a deafening level that makes Merlin flinch.

#

Merlin tells Morgana about the tape, of course he tells her, and Morgana brings out a bottle of wine and two glasses. She crosses her legs over his and demands to see it. When Merlin fishes it out of his messenger bag she inspects it with narrow eyes as if it might contain chemical warfare, and then, seemingly satisfied, hands it back to Merlin.

“I think that’s great. I mean, someone was really thinking about you, and they have impressive music taste.” She has her hair pulled into a messy knot on top of her head and Merlin’s positive he’s the only one she lets see her like this.

He leans his head against her shoulder. “Who do you think would do this for me though?”

Morgana sips at her wine carefully, teeth clicking against the rim of the glass. “Maybe it was Mordred.”

“What in god’s –“ Merlin draws back from her with a horrified look, “Why would you even say that?”

Morgana laughs her wind chime laugh, “He’s not that awful, I actually quite enjoy his company.”

“That’s because he’s nice to you. He’s trying to kill your brother you know.” Merlin warns her.

“Who isn’t?” Morgana snags the tape up, “Let’s listen to this thing anyway.”

While she’s fiddling with her stereo, Merlin’s phone vibrates in his back pocket and startles him. The screen flashes Gwen on it and a little envelope appears.

Heard ur doing shows now. Lance and the boys want to play

“Huh, Gwen says Lance’s band wants to play a venue at Spin.” Merlin announces over the obscene volume of Morgana’s stereo. She turns it down and wrinkles her nose.

“What?”

“Lance,” Merlin waves his phone as if the information will fly from it and into Morgana’s head, “His band wants to play at our store, Gwen just texted me.”

Morgana leans over to the coffee table to grab her glass. “They’re such a gross couple aren’t they? It’s like they sucked all of the happiness out of everyone else’s relationships and turned it into sappy affection.”

“Why the bitterness, Morgana? Are you upset that Leon doesn’t want to cuddle with you and send you roses when you’re at work?” Merlin teases her.

He’s pretty certain Morgana snarls at him. “He’s just a friend.” She grits out and Merlin can’t stop the laughter. “I hope your anonymous tape maker is Mordred. I will pray to every god that has ever been dreamt up that it is Mordred.”

Merlin curls up on the couch. “That’s dramatic, Morgana.” Morgana glares at Merlin until he drags her back up to the couch and softly tells her, “I just don’t want you to join the club of sexual repression.”

She laughs and wraps around him, resting her head on his chest. “I’m thinking about taking some time off next month, I was offered some extra holiday hours.”

“Are you going to France again?”

“No, dumb, I’ve already seen it. I think I’m going to go to the beach, maybe in Australia. Uther’s got a time share on the coast there you know?” Morgana digs the remote control out from underneath the couch cushion.

Merlin laughs a bit hysterically, “Of course he does, Uther Pendragon owns something in every country. I still can’t understand how you and Arthur ended up the way you did. I mean –you two actually smile on occasion.”

“You should see it when Uther does smile. You probably have, actually, and thought he was having a fit of some sort.” When Merlin thinks about, there are a few times in the past he’s thought maybe Uther was about to have an aneurysm. “Back to fun topics, I finally got my new drumheads in, and I think it’s time we got Mediocre Blowjob back together.”

Merlin nearly chokes on his wine when he hears the name of him and Morgana’s “musical project” from high school. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the ukulele has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Will had a rogue cigarette situation.” Merlin had never really mastered it anyways. “I wouldn’t mind hearing you on the drums again though. Gwaine tells me Lance’s drummer is piss poor, can even count or something. You should take over.”

“Because Lance would ever be mean enough to kick someone out of his band.” Morgana lets out a sigh.

“Nah, he won’t but I’m sure we could get Will to offend him or something. Maybe Arthur can do it, he’s pretty heartless when it comes to delivering news, always trying to play it off as ‘being honest’.” Merlin shrugs.

“Maybe I’ll kill him. No one would have to know, I could just conveniently slip into practice the next morning.”

“Well now I would know.”

Morgana extricates her self from Merlin’s arms and practically climbs her entertainment system to reach behind the picture frames on top. She produces a pair of drum sticks and waves them in front of her face. “How about a test drive on the new drum heads?”

“Lead the way Neil Pert.”

#

Age 17:
Her name is Amber and she’s one of Morgana’s friends. She’s a pretty girl, with large green eyes and soft brown hair and she tells Arthur that she’s going to make him feel real good. The party is a muffled bass noise just outside of his bedroom door and Amber falls to her knees in front of Arthur. She pulls his unimpressively soft cock out of his trousers and slips it in between her lips. It feels good but it’s uncomfortable enough to keep Arthur from getting anything more than half hard. Arthur finally pulls Amber off, looking at her apologetically. “Is it me?” her eyes are full of self doubt and it makes Arthur’s stomach turn.

“No, god no, it’s just-“ He takes a deep breath, “I think I’m gay.”

Amber’s expression goes all soft and a part of her look relieved. “Have you told anybody yet?”

Arthur just shakes his head. “I know this is probably a lot to ask, but can you not say anything to Morgana?”

“I wouldn’t do that. Although, Morgana really does love you and I think she would be super understanding if you wanted to tell her. You would be able to go pick up some guys too. There’s a really cute gay guy out there, I was just talking to him, you should chat him up.” Amber tells him.

“I’m pretty sure I know everyone at this party and the only gay guy I know out there is Merlin.” Arthur says.

Amber lights up, “Yeah, that’s him! You know him?”

“He’s my best friend.” Arthur answers quietly.

Amber studies him closely, makes Arthur feel entirely too exposed. “Alright, well. You’re secrets safe with me.” She hugs him tightly and leaves him standing alone in a dark room

#
Merlin is rubbing the kinks out of his fingers after two weeks of working on the sound system with Arthur when Will drapes himself over the counter and slides a cassette across it to him.

“Please tell me you’re not the one making me mixes.” Merlin stares numbly at the tape and looks up to Will’s vacant expression.

“Excuse me? I’m a catch.” He screws up his face in a way that certainly doesn’t make him look like a catch. “And no, unfortunately for you, it’s not me. I found it on the new release shelf.”

Merlin perks up, “Wait, did you see who put it there, can you remember who was around there today?”

“No such luck, there’s been at least a hundred people through here already today.” Will glances quickly back at the groups of people milling about.

“But Mordred hasn’t been in today yet.” Merlin relaxes.

“What about Mordred?” speak of the devil. Mordred has his hood pulled up over his head and the loveliest scowl on his face.

Will pulls on Mordred’s drawstrings until there’s only a small circle of his face showing. “We’re just trying to figure out who’s making all these romantic, super secret mixed tapes for Merlin. It’s like a real mystery, and we’re detectives trying to –“

“Shut up.” Mordred snaps, pulling his hood loose. “Someone is making you mixes?” He looks between Will and Merlin as they exchange silent glances. “It’s Arthur.”

Merlin makes a show of looking towards Arthur, sitting on top of one of the long shelves, throwing number 2 pencils at the ceiling and trying to get them to stick. He turns back to stare at Mordred. “I don’t think you understand the sort of relationship me and Arthur have.”

“I don’t think you do either.” Mordred waves his hand in Merlin’s face violently, “I’m telling you, I’m right. And when you find out that I am I want you to finally hire me.”

There’s a span of silence and Will digs his tongue into the side of his cheek and shoots a look at Merlin. “You want to work here? Is that why you’re always being creepy around here?”

Mordred continues to ignore Will, “Yes I gave you my application five years ago.”

“What” Merlin stares at him before he throws his head back and laughs, “Oh my god, I thought you were trying to get off with Arthur, this is amazing. Arthur!” He waves for Arthur to come over to the counter.

Arthur does an awkward sort of skip run towards them, holding his pants up with one hand and ‘really this is getting ridiculous, someone needs to buy him a belt’, Merlin thinks. “Hey what’s going on? Mordred, dear.”

“You know how always thought Mordred wanted to shag you and you always thought Mordred wanted to shag me? Turns out he just wants a job here.” Merlin rocks back and forth on his feet and Arthur leans around Will to gawk at Mordred.

“Really?!”

“Of course I want a job, what the fuck happened to the resume I gave you?” Mordred huffs out.

“You were like twelve when you gave that to me.” Arthur snorts.

“I was fifteen.”

“Well,” Merlin claps his hand together and draws in everyone’s attention, “If I had known it was this easy to appease the antichrist. Bring me your updated resume tomorrow and let us deliberate, Arthur and I, and we’ll see about a job.”

For the first time since the arrival of Mordred, the scowl falls from his face, “You will?”

Merlin almost feels bad for all the years of thinking it would be in everybody’s best interest to have Mordred exorcised when he’s looking at him like he is. He wonders if working with them will melt the icy casing around his heart, or at least make him seem less murderous. “Come back tomorrow.”

Mordred nods his head slowly and backs away from the counter in a daze, “Okay, yeah, have a good day.” He mumbles as he leaves the store.

“He just told us to have a nice day.” Arthur stares after the door.

Merlin makes a small noise of agreement and closes his eyes to let his thoughts catch up to him. “Let’s talk about your new tape, mate.” Will breaks the silence. Merlin had forgotten about the cassette now lying behind the register and is almost instantly frantic to inspect it now. The cover is covered in a shiny red foil with a giant comic book style explosion and the word “Throwbacks!” written in blocky white letter. This time the note inside has lyrics from the Smashing Pumpkins song Tonight, Tonight and reads, “Merlin, The indescribable moments of your life tonight, the impossible is possible tonight, believe in me as I believe in you tonight.” The track listing starts with Cannonball by The Breeders and ends with Never Going Back Again by Fleetwood Mac and Merlin runs his fingers over the shiny plastic and sighs.

“Wow.” And there it was again, Will’s slurred voice. Merlin looks up at Will and Arthur staring at him with amused looks. “You are like, really turned on right now.”

“Will.” Merlin pinches the bridge of his nose.

Will puts his hands up in faked innocence and makes a series of stupid sounding prefixes. “Mordred think’s you’re the one making the tapes.” He slings his arm around Arthur’s shoulders, “Are you tryin’a get at that?”

Arthur lets out the most dejected sigh he can muster and stares at his feet, “Yeah, I am.” He shoots Merlin a coy glance from under his eyelashes.

Merlin frowns, “I really hate you two.”

#

 

“I can’t believe you got this done!” Gwen has her hands folded up under her chin, yelling at Merlin over the deafening sound of the band. There’s at least thirty girls mooning over Lance’s singing right now, Merlin’s wondering when Gwen will notice and start a massacre. Morgana is doing her best to beat the drums through the floor and he wonders if maybe the body of their old drummer is stuffed in their storage closet right now.

“It was mostly Arthur, I mean the man’s a technical genius at heart. This store would be an emptier place without La Cucaracha.” He swings his legs from his position perched on the counter.

Gwen leans against his thighs and dares to glance away from the shiny golden god that is Lancelot. “So how are things with your mystery man? We’re all really excited to find out who it is. I mean, how sweet is all of this? Making you mixes with those great covers and those cute little notes. Not to mention he has your music tastes down to a T.”

“Oh our secret affair is great.” Merlin leans back on his palms seductively, “He leaves me great music and I listen to it and fantasize about him taking me away to his vacation home in Spain and getting shagged within an inch of my life.”

Gwen bites her lip, “What do you suppose he looks like?”

“I imagine he’s probably a bit unfortunate looking.”

“That’s an awful thing to say about someone who is obviously putting a lot of thought into you.”

“He has to have something wrong with him or else he’s perfect –and that’s rather intimidating.”

Gwen scans the room. “Maybe it’s Mordred.” She says conspiratorially.

Mordred is sifting through the crowd of people, double-checking ID’s for any stray minors that might have come through the side door. A couple weeks ago, Merlin would have wept at the suggestion, but employment has done wonders for Mordred. He seems less like a terrorist and more like a mildly bored twenty year old. “I’ve heard that before, It’s definitely not Mordred though.”

“How could you know that?” Gwen’s yelling again over the band.

“He works for me now, I’ve seen his ‘artistic abilities’ on our chalkboard. Not to mention he asked me how to rewind a cassette the second day he was working here.” Merlin tracks Mordred as he comes to stand next to Arthur. “He’s got his eye on someone else, anyway.” He adds it quietly and he’s not sure Gwen’s even heard him.

Some terrible emotion makes its home in Merlin’s stomach as Mordred’s usually pinched expression softens into something like longing when Arthur whispers something to him. He knows all too well what is feels like to have Arthur’s breath against his ear. To hear his voice lowered in a whisper meant only for him.

Mordred says something back and his eyes meet with Merlin’s briefly before Arthur’s following Mordred into the back room.

#

Arthur keeps his hand pressed against the door of the backroom, crumpling the corner of the schedule taped haphazardly to the wood, while the other is tugging gently at thick black hair. His jeans are caught up around his ankles and he’s vaguely aware that if he moves he’ll trip face first into the wall. “I –Ah, gonna come, I’m gonna come.”

A soothing hand runs over his stomach and the man on his knees gives one last, hard suck and Arthur’s blinded by his orgasm, babbling out a stream of, “Merlin, oh god, so good, baby,” and he sinks into a heap on the floor, flinging his arm over his eyes. He get’s a halfhearted punch to the stomach and grimaces. “Ow, what the fuck?”

He opens his eyes to Mordred glaring at him. “What are you, fucking rude?”

“What are you talking about?” Arthur struggles to pull his trousers back up.

Mordred runs the back of his hand over his mouth and rolls his eyes. “Oh Merlin, so perfect, love you so much. Right there, Merlin, you’re the best.” His impression of Arthur sounds like a whiny preteen. “You could have at least tried!”

Arthur turns red all the way to the tips of his ears. “I didn’t –you just heard me wrong.” He mumbles, not even sounding convincing to himself. Even with all of the scowling, Arthur can’t miss the look of hurt Mordred has in his eyes as he stares holes into the carpet. “I’m really sorry.” Arthur says it quietly and tilts his head sideways so that he can invade Mordred’s line of sight. “I’m sort of a dick, yeah?”

Mordred lets out a tiny huff of laughter. “Yeah, sort of. I kind of walked into that one though, I mean, I’ve seen the way you look at him.” Arthur swallows hard and Mordred studies him. “Is it you? The one leaving the tapes?”

“IIII I mean I don’t-“

“Come on, you have to tell me, you owe me that much.”

Arthur finally nods and says, “Please, don’t tell him, I don’t want him to know.”

Mordred laughs and helps Arthur to his feet, “That’s so fucking stupid, isn’t that the whole point of all of this? So he’ll know about all of your sensitive feelings.”

“Now you sound like Will.” Arthur grits out even though he’s smiling. “It’s not about him knowing that it’s me, I just want to make him happy; to know that there’s someone out there that maybe sort of –loves him.”

The door bangs open and the music outside tumbles in so loudly they both jump while Will does a sort of awkward, jerky dance to the beat. “Oh woah, I didn’t know anyone was gonna be in here, I was coming in to get some more cups for the –hey,” He looks between Arthur and Mordred, “Were you guys having sex in here?”

Before either of them can answer, Merlin comes in holding a box of broken microphones. “Um, was there supposed to be a staff meeting or something?” He drops the box noisily onto the floor.

“You’re the boss man, you make the meetings.” Will scratches idly at his stomach. “I was just looking for more cups, these two were boffing.”

Merlin looks slowly from Mordred to Arthur with a carefully blank expression and Arthur wants to throw Will into traffic. “We were not, William.” Mordred turns on his most sinister expression, “I was switching shifts with Arthur for next weekend.”

Arthur glances at the schedule that has shifted on the door and makes the lie that much more believable. Merlin seems to buy it, most importantly. “Thanks for taking care of that now and not the day before. Will, don’t worry about the cups, I need you to keep an eye on that group near the emergency exit, they seem pretty dodgy.” He shoves Will out the door.

Mordred follows close behind him, leaving Merlin and Arthur alone. Merlin jerks his head towards the door where Mordred just disappeared. “’S weird isn’t it? I swore he was going to burn this place down one day. Now it’s like he’s a human being.”

Arthur struggles to maintain an expression that doesn’t scream “He just gave me an amazing blowjob and I imagined it was you the entire time”. He ends up looking sick instead. “So what do you think of the band so far?”

Merlin’s face lights up, “I can’t believe Morgana convinced Lance to let her play the drums for his band, I mean, Lance was really close with their old drummer.”

“Morgana probably killed him.” Arthur tells him and Merlin laughs.

“She has a way with persuasion.” Merlin’s expression changes to something wistful and he moves close enough to Arthur to make his skin heat up. “We did it, Arthur. This, the band, all these people here; and it’s all because we finally got our shit together and did what everyone’s been telling us to do for years.” He wraps his arms lightly around Arthur and lets his head fall onto Arthur’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

Arthur grits his teeth and forces himself not to let his hands linger on Merlin’s sides or settle too low near his hips. “You’re such a girl, Merlin.” He teases and Merlin laughs, his back shifting under Arthur’s hands.

“Really though, we should at least receive some sort of honorary metal for this. I’ll settle for a knighting if they can’t make anything grander happen.”

“I’m not sure about all that, but you can have this.” Arthur produces a new tape for Merlin from his back pocket. “It was pushed under the door.”

The plastic of the tape is warm from being pressed against Arthur’s body, and he feels strange holding it. “What did -what did Mordred ask you?” He swallows hard.

Arthur cocks his head to the side, “What?”

“Out there, when Lance was playing, he whispered something to you. What did he say?”

He can’t keep his gaze steady on Merlin and Merlin knows that he’s feeling guilty about something. “That was nothing, just joking about the band is all. You know how Mordred is.”

Merlin turns the tape over in his hands and tries not to feel a sick burn of rejection he has no business feeling. Arthur isn’t his, he can hook up with whoever he wants. “Yeah, I suppose.”

#

It’s only an hour past closing time when Merlin drags the amp plugs out of storage, Arthur close on his heels. “What are you doing with those?” He has to jog a little to keep up.

“The bass guitar sounded wonky tonight, don’t you think? It kept cutting out on the low C’s.” Merlin tells him

“That’s because he has no business playing low C’s” Arthur smiles.

Merlin laughs but drags out his nicest Monster cable and fumbles it into the input of a cream colored Fender Mustang bass. “Sometimes I think about the time you used to play bass.”

“Oh, how the world is a much poorer place for it, now that I don’t” Arthur puts on his most self depreciating tone.

Merlin rounds on him and shoves the bass into his hands. “This is a beautiful guitar, I want to hear you play it.”

Arthur looks down at the bass he’s holding and can’t help running the pad of his thumb over the textured strings. “It’s been a while.”

“Too long.” Merlin says, “When you used to play before I always loved the way the music felt. You’re the only person that makes me feel it.” It sounds an awful lot like a confession and Arthur sits himself down on the floor, cradling the body of the bass in his lap.

“What do you want me to play?” Arthur plucks absently on the out of tune E string and plays with the tuning peg until it’s right.

“Play the Pixies. Just to start off with, then I want something more Arthur.” Merlin sits next to him, his body pressed in a definite line against Arthur’s.

Arthur laughs, “Alright, turn up the volume on that.” Merlin kicks at the volume on the amp with the toe of his shoe and Arthur picks out the first few notes of Debasser, watching Merlin light up.

They sit there for what feels like hours, the store getting perpetually darker except for the dim light coming from the office and the red glow of the amp. “Why did you stop? You and Morgana both.”

Arthur runs his hand over the neck of the guitar. “Seemed like a waste of time is all.” He admits.

“You’re ridiculous.” Merlin pulls his knees up to his chest and Arthur shoves him.

“That’s rich, coming from the guy who never leaves work.”

“I go home.”

“Yeah,” Arthur agree, “and do work.”

Merlin laughs but goes back to watching Arthur quietly play the bass line to Spiderwebs by No Doubt. Arthur glances at him out of the corner of his eye and pulls a face. “I like watching you play.” Merlin admits and when Arthur stops playing he notices just how close their faces really are. Merlin’s eyes flicker down to Arthur’s lips and Arthur knows he didn’t just imagine that. His heart if a stuttering mess and he wants to bridge that gap between them and kiss Merlin senseless. Except Merlin seems to faded back into reality and jerks back, mumbling out an excuse of needing to close up.

When Merlin locks everything up and ushers Arthur outside, Arthur touches Merlin’s elbow, “Hey,”

Merlin, seeming to know what Arthur is about to say, quickly blurts out “Goodnight, Arthur” and practically runs away from him.

Arthur wants to curse every god that might be listening to him, smirking down on his plight. He knows that Merlin was interested in kissing him tonight. He saw the way he was looking at him, with all that intent. He tries to think about what would have driven Merlin away so quickly and his mind immediately goes to Mordred. Merlin had seen Mordred whispering in Arthur ear, had watched them disappear into the back room and he heard the weak excuse that they had given about changing up the schedule. There was no doubt in his mind that Merlin thought that they were together. He probably thought Arthur was being a total scumbag and already scamming on another guy after just having hooked up with Mordred.

Once Arthur gets home he curls himself up in bed and opens a new text message to Merlin. He stares at the blank screen for what feels like hours before he finally types out, ‘me and Mordred aren’t together’.

Five minutes later he gets a text message back that simply says ‘k’

#

Age 18:
“Hang on though, maybe we can start a rap group.” Arthur slings the strap of his bass guitar over his head as Merlin finishes plucking out his version of Boys in the Hood on his ukulele.

“I don’t think we have the right stuff for that.” Merlin strums absently and Arthur turns up the volume on his bass.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Will keeps himself sprawled at Merlin’s feet and hardly lifts his head to glare at him. “I’m a really gifted sort of rapper, I’ll have you know.”

Arthur laughs, “I thought Merlin should be our lead singer. He’s the most rough and tumble of us all.”

Merlin just nods his head solemnly, “All those years living in a stuffy slum with my mother and let me tell you what. All of those winters spent warming my bum on a radiator have really hardened me as a person.”

Will sits up, “You lived in the slum?”

“Where do you think we were when I meet you? Buckingham Palace?” Merlin frowns at him.

“I thought you were always visiting someone in the area when you would come over.” Will looks awestruck.

Merlin just stares at him incredulously, “I was your neighbor for five years, Will!”

Arthur doubles over with laughter, “Oh my god, you really are touched in the head.” He keeps laughing, even when Will shoves him over, his bass guitar letting out a deep, resonating note. Will looks on the verge of laying into Arthur with his fists and Merlin just leans forward and pulls Will away by his shoulders.

“He’s just teasing you, Will.” Merlin shakes his head. “I wish you two would get along better, you’re really not all that different.”

Will scoffs, “Except that he’s a posh wanker with a silver spoon born straight up his arse.”

“And you’re a classist prick.” Arthur snaps and Merlin is surprised by Arthur’s sudden anger. He’s never reacted to Will’s bullshit before. “Just because my father is rich and he raised me in a different way than you doesn’t make me a bad person. Merlin’s not well off and I still love him.”

Arthur doesn’t seem to realize what he’s said and Will and Merlin just stare at him. When he finally understands why he turns bright red and buries his face in his hands, “I didn’t mean it like that.” He mumbles but Merlin just wraps Arthur into a tight hug, “I love you too, Artie.” He buries his nose in Arthur’s hair and Will just laughs at him.

“I change my mind.” Will snickers, “You’re a total riot with your emotional repression. Is that what they teach you in your fancy boarding schools?”

“Shut up.” Arthur snaps, “Merlin knows he’s my best friend, I don’t have to remind him all the time.”

Merlin just sits there with his knees curled up to his chest looking pleased as punch, his ukulele abandoned at his feet.

#

“We have revenue! Huge amounts of revenue and income and monetary –um, whatsits!” Will shakes the bottle of tequila in Merlin’s face.

“You don’t know what any of that means.” Merlin shakes his head.

“Of course I don’t, but we’re rich!”

Morgana laughs from the spot on the couch where she is pressed up against Arthur’s side. “He’s just so happy, I don’t even want to let him know that I’m still making more than him.”

“I can tell him, if you want?” Arthur offers, busying himself with tying loops into Morgana’s hair. They’re so opposite in looks, the only thing that makes them believably related is their stubbornness and egos. A hellish combination when it comes out. Gwaine alternates between drumming on the coffee table and Lance’s lap with Morgana’s drumsticks until he knocks over a shot glass and sighs.

“You two are like the best looking siblings in all of Europe and you aren’t even famous.” He prods at Morgana’s knee.

Arthur and Morgana exchanged glances and Arthur smirks, “Says the living shampoo commercial.”

“Don’t tell them shit like that, Gwaine.” Merlin groans, “Arthur is going to go on and on about it for at least a month and I’m going to have to remind him he has crooked teeth or something just to bring him back down to the level of the rest of us peons.”

“Oh, don’t start that.” Arthur abandons the loops and settles for draping Morgana’s hair across his upper lip like a moustache. Gwen comes skipping –stumbling –over to them and pours herself into Lance’s lap, pressing a tumbler glass against his mouth.

“ ‘S a special drink that Mordred made for me and you.” She slurs out, giggling.

“What’s in it, rat poison?” Gwaine asks and is met by snickering.

Lance takes a sip, “It’s vodka and mountain dew, sweetheart.” He places the cup on the table and lifts Gwen up in his arms. “Maybe that’s enough for tonight?”

Gwen pouts, “’M not drunk.”

“I didn’t say that, but I’m tired and I don’t really want to fall asleep alone.” He reasons calmly to her and Gwen just nods and buries her face in his shoulder.

“Ew, really?” Morgana says after a moment. More snickering.

Lance glares at them and Merlin stands up and dusts off whatever might have settled into the denim of his jeans throughout the night. “I’m gonna call it a night too. Can one of you make sure Will doesn’t choke on his own vomit or something?”

“Not me.” Arthur pats Morgana’s leg and gets up off the couch, “I’m going home too. Thanks for the party Morgana.”

“No problem, congrats on becoming the hipster hot spot.” She takes the opportunity of Arthur’s absence to lay down.

Lance is still standing near the door with Gwen in his arms and Merlin turns to Arthur. “Arthur, are you going to come with me so that I have someone to snuggle with too?”

“Jealousy is unbecoming of you, Merlin.” Lance tells him calmly as they file out into the hall, even with the grin on his face.

“Why would I be jealous? Arthur’s going to cuddle the fuck out of me, right?”

Arthur nods solemnly, then lifts Merlin into his arms the way Lance is holding Gwen. Merlin is all limbs and slightly taller than Arthur. It’s awkward. Arthur makes it all of five steps before he stumbles and puts Merlin down on the ground. “I can’t keep carrying you around, fatty, I need to keep my stamina up for the spooning.”

Merlin settles with slipping his hand into Arthur’s and lacing their fingers together while they follow Lance out to the sidewalk so that he can hail a taxi for him and Gwen. “Have a good night, you two. Stay safe.” Lance waves.

Arthur notices that Merlin doesn’t let go of his hand, even as they round the corner out of Lance’s line of sight. It seems, even, that Merlin moves closer to him –drops his head onto Arthur’s shoulder. It feels so domestic –so simple, and safe, and Arthur lets himself rub his thumb in circles over the back of Merlin’s hand. He thinks about leaning over and stealing small kisses from Merlin while they head back home –their home. They stop by Merlin’s door, successfully pulling Arthur back into mediocre reality. “Want to come up and have a drink?”

Arthur snorts, “Are you really trying to get me into bed?”

“You did say we were going to cuddle. Don’t lead me on, Artie.” Merlin digs his keys out of his back pocket. “And I’m not quite on Gwen’s level yet, I think we should strive to get there.”

Merlin shoves his front door open and Arthur rubs his hands together, “Onwards, to alcohol poisoning!” The apartment has the cluttery feeling of walking into one of those off brand health food stores Merlin is so fond of. “You have hoarding tendencies, Merls.” Arthur taps the row of bobble heads lined up on the television.

“I think it makes it feel homey in here.” Merlin kicks his shoes off carelessly in the middle of the floor and the neat freak in Arthur moves them against the wall.

“Or a fire hazard.” He goes over to Merlin’s stereo and finds his tapes stacked lovingly in order on top of it. He bites back a smile and Merlin shuffles back in with a bottle of wine and two coffee mugs. Arthur raises and eyebrow, “You’re really serious about these mixes, aren’t you?”

Merlin gets an incredibly embarrassed look on his face that Arthur’s grown quite fond of over the years. “I mean –yeah, it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me and it makes me feel, well, special.”

Arthur swallows against the knot in his throat and forces himself to roll his eyes. “That’s so girly, Merlin.” He picks up the latest one off the top of the stack. “Good taste in music, your secret love.” He slides it into the cassette player and puts himself as close to Merlin as he can on the couch.

“He really does, it makes me doubt he’s one of our regulars, they all make questionable music decisions.”

“What if it’s a girl?” Arthur smirks.

Merlin lets out a long groan, “Oh my god I didn’t even think about that. Poor misguided thing, I hope it’s not a girl.”

“You are gay as the day is long, I think almost everyone in London must know that by now.” Arthur amends.

Merlin silently pours the wine into their mugs when Arthur’s words finally catch up with his brain. “Wait, what? What does that even mean –the day is long?”

He’s off rambling and squinting into various points of space and Arthur hums along to Wolf Parade and buries his face in Merlin’s warm shirt under the pretense of drunkenness. He smells like cheap tequila and organic laundry detergent and dust and Arthur wants to venture underneath the clothing and see how his skin tastes. “That’s so creepy.” Arthur mutters aloud and Merlin’s teeth click shut audibly and he glances down at him.

“What is? The song? You love this song, you told me last year that you thought it was such a misunderstood song and that the base drumming is what really brought it –“

“Stop rambling.” Arthur shoves off of Merlin and buries his face in his mug of wine. “I feel so classy drinking this, I wish I had worn my nice underwear.”

The look Merlin gives him makes Arthur shiver, and when Merlin pushes the tips of his fingers underneath his black jeans Arthur lets out an involuntary yelp as he grazes the soft skin in the joint of his hip. “That’s ridiculous, you don’t ever wear any.” Merlin’s voice is teasing and Arthur pushes Merlin’s hand out of his trousers before he does something embarrassing, like come all over his best friends hand. “You have so many intimacy issues.”

“Oh ho, fancy talk coming from someone relatively drunk.” Arthur nods towards Merlin’s half empty cup of wine and Merlin swipes his hand over his face clumsily. “And how would you know I have intimacy issues, you’re not my boyfriend.”

The words almost hurt to say and Arthur finds himself instantly distracted by the popcorn on the ceiling. Merlin half crawls half collapses onto Arthur’s side of the couch, “When’s the last time you let someone touch you? Like really touch you?”

“Are we really having this conversation?”

“Was it Mordred? Was he good?” Merlin looks up at him through heavy eyelashes and Arthur swallows.

“That didn’t mean anything.” Arthur can’t bring himself to lie about that anymore.

“Does Mordred know that?” Merlin climbs into Arthur’s lap.

It would seem that all of the alcohol he had consumed at the party is finally catching up to Merlin and judging by the dizziness Arthur is feeling, it’s caught up to him too. Merlin doesn’t ask him anything else, only lets his hand linger right under the hem of Arthur’s shirt, grazing the expanse of skin between Arthur’s hipbones. “Tell me what you’re like in bed. Even when we lived together at school I could never tell, you were always so bloody quiet.”

“Oh I’m awful.” Arthur closes his eyes against the feeling of Merlin’s breath against his neck. “Only last a few seconds. No form whatsoever.” He’s hoping that the self depreciating humor will drive Merlin to go back to just laughing and insisting they play monopoly or something equally horrendous.

“Freya told me that about Will last summer actually.”

That makes Arthur laugh despite everything, “I really don’t want to think about Will right now.”

Merlin fumbles himself into Arthur’s lap, making it seem like more of a struggle than it should be. “But you want to think about me right now?”

Yes! Arthur thinks. Absolutely, yes I do, I think about you so much you would probably feel incredibly embarrassed. His words are weighed down by alcohol though and he just nods his head and makes a strained noise that he knows he’s going to feel embarrassed about in the morning.

Merlin kisses him then. It’s clumsy and his mouth is a little slack against Arthur’s but the only thing Arthur can think right now is ‘Yes, perfect.’ He does his best to lick the taste of cheap liquor and wine off of Merlin’s tongue. Merlin lets out a contented sigh and leans back on Arthur’s knees and Arthur instantly wants his mouth on Merlin’s again. Instead, Merlin laughs like he’s just heard something semi-amusing and rolls off of Arthur, dragging himself heavily to his feet. “You’re funny, Arth’r.”

Arthur strains to find any reason that would make him funny right now and can find none is the fuzz of alcohol and lack of blood flow. “Um.” He opts for in the end.

“ ‘M going to bed, you can sleep there too if you want to.”

Merlin looks the way he did when they were twelve and having sleepovers. Arthur shifts uncomfortably, pressing the heel of his hand against the strain of his erection. “Yeah, uh –yeah that’s fine just –Can I borrow some bottoms so I don’t have to sleep in denim?”

Merlin lights up and stumbles away to his room, returning surprisingly quickly for someone in his state, and he throws a threadbare pair of pajama bottoms at Arthur. “If I fall asleep, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Arthur rolls his eyes, “You’re going to fall asleep.” And then Merlin’s gone again with a drunken chuckle and Arthur practically runs to the bathroom and locks the door.

He sinks onto the ground, hardly getting his trousers down before he has his hand wrapped tightly around his neglected cock. “Stupid, drunk, Merlin.” Arthur is gasping for breath as he comes embarrassingly quickly, spilling over his hand and dripping onto the tile floor. There’s no feeling left in him. He’s tired, and his drunkenness is fading into an unpleasant buzz and he’s even more painfully in love with Merlin now that he know what his lips taste like. When Arthur pushes some tissues around on the floor with his toes, he realizes that Joshua Radin is playing quietly out in the living room. He almost forgets to put the holey pajamas on when he walks out to find Merlin’s old stereo winding the cassette inside of it with a gentle laziness.

Arthur remembers exactly what he was doing when he had made this one –it had taken him hours to find the perfect songs that he knew would make Merlin turn into a schoolgirl all full to the brim with emotions, when he listened to it. He presses the eject button and carefully puts the tape back in its case and back onto the stack of others. Arthur wants to tell Merlin it’s him –has this whole fantasy playing out in his head that he’ll make a grand declaration of love and give him the last mix and Merlin will be so overcome with his feelings for Arthur (they’ve been suppressed of course, sitting dormant in him for years now) that they’ll make love at least three times before they stay in bed the rest of the next day just cuddling and kissing. And he feels incredibly cheesy thinking about it so he likes to tack onto the end that Will would have to try and run shop by himself because of Arthur and Merlin’s absence, and Mordred ends up killing him out of frustration.

The worst case scenario, and the one that Arthur thinks is more likely, is that he tells Merlin and –because he’s the nicest person in the world and would probably commit sympathetic suicide with he hurt anybody –Merlin would give Arthur that pitying look and smile and say “Oh, this was lovely, thank you, but –“ and there it would be, the ominous but, “You’re my best friend, I just can’t see it any other way.”

“This was probably not my best idea.” Arthur says to the stack of mixes before trudging down the hall and throwing himself into Merlin’s bed, careful not to move to closely to him.

#

Every bone in Merlin’s body pops as he stretches out in the bed. At least Arthur swears it’s every bone. “That’s disgusting.” Arthur dares to open an eye against morning light.

Merlin attempts to let out a satisfied moan, but he’s laughing, so really it just ends up sounding like he’s in pain. “I feel like alcohol has soaked into my joints.”

“It makes sense, you were completely pissed last night.”

“How did we get home?”

‘Great’, Arthur thinks, ‘he doesn’t remember.’ “I carried you some of the way. About ten steps. And then you dragged us back here, somehow, and then wine, and then sleep.”

“Oh well, at least we didn’t knock over a bank or something.” Merlin’s voice is muffled in his pillow.

Arthur smiles up at the ceiling, “It was a close thing.”

“Maybe we should call out of work or something? Just have Will and Mordred run the place for a day.”

“The store would catch fire.” Arthur promises. Merlin’s phone vibrates on the nightstand next to him and Merlin drapes himself heavily over Arthur to reach it. He stays there even as he reads the text message he’s gotten. “Is it the police, has Will finally been caught?”

Merlin snorts, “No, it’s your sister, she wants to know if I got lucky last night, I just texted her back, told her I just ended up going home with you.” Arthur tries not to be terribly offended by that when Merlin rolls off of him and quickly off of the other side of the bed, fishing for a clean shirt out of a heap of clothing on the floor. When the phone goes off again Arthur lets out a loud scoffing noise. “What did she say?” Merlin spins around in his desk chair.

“She said, “rough, that, maybe next time it’ll be someone with a sufficient sized dick’, who texts like this? Sufficient?” Arthur scowls again and tries to ignore Merlin’s laughter. “Stop talking to my sister, she’s the devil.”

“I think she’s funny” Merlin shrugs and tosses Arthur’s wallet and keys onto the bed, “Come on, I have to get to the shop and set up our new vinyl’s display before Monday.”

“Are you asking me to help?”

“Nope, but you can’t stay here.”

Arthur slides out of the bed and doesn’t bother to put a shirt on before pulling his jacket over his head. “Alright, well, I’ll tell Will it’s mandatory and he can go down there.”

Merlin just laughs and follows Arthur out of his apartment.

Arthur is happily in his own hung over world chattering away about Will’s hair falling out because he is ‘no doubt going to have male patter baldness’ when he runs into Merlin’s back. He doesn’t even notice Cenred is standing in front of then until he takes in Merlin’s rigid stance and narrowed eyes.

“Pendragon?” Cenred looks between them, “Oh, Merlin, love, you could do so much better than that.”

Arthur wants to punch Cenred in the face again but Merlin is quicker to respond. “What the fuck do you want, Cenred?”

“Why the hostility, baby? We had such a good life together, no need to throw all of that to the wind just because we broke up.” Cenred runs his thumb over Merlin’s cheek bone and Arthur can’t help the small noise of protest that rises out of his throat. “Calm down, blondie, I don’t care what you’re doing with my leftovers.”

Arthur lurches forward but Merlin catches him and pushes him back, his face coming dangerously close to Arthur’s, “Arthur, please, he’s not worth it. Let me take care of this, I don’t want you getting in trouble because of him.”

“That’s sweet.” Cenred adds, “Merlin’s so accommodating isn’t he? Has he done that thing for you yet? Where he starts moaning your name when he’s about to come.”

Merlin shoves Cenred hard, “Stop!” his hands are balled up into fists at his sides, “Do you have a reason for being here or are you just trying to start shit?” Merlin is breathing hard and Cenred just smile sweetly.

“I just wanted to see you again, sweetheart. I’ve been missing you these days, I thought maybe I would stop by and see if I could give you a little morning sex to start you day. Seems you have him here to help you with that though.” He nods towards Arthur. “You always swore to me that you two were only friends. I knew it from the beginning though didn’t I? I told you what I thought. Good luck with this one, Pendragon.”

Arthur wants nothing more than to chase Cenred into traffic and watch him slowly get smushed underneath a bus, but the look on Merlin’s face tells him there’s more important things afoot. Merlin’s breathing is shaky and he’s clearly unsettled by their meeting with Cenred. “Hey, he’s a stupid prick, don’t listen to the shit he says.” Arthur slips his arm around Merlin’s shoulders.

“It’s embarrassing. I can’t believe I ever slept with him, that I ever let him have that to hold against me.” Merlin’s voice is uneven and Arthur sighs.

“We all have to learn, right? Remember that girl Sophia I was hooking up with back when I was still trying to be straight?” Arthur cringes at the memory but he wants to offer something to Merlin to make him feel better. “He would watch me when I sleep and then she cut off that chunk of my hair to try to do some magic ritual.”

Merlin actually lets out a small laugh and Arthur claims his small victory. “It could always be worse. Besides, he thinks you’re taken now, so he’s probably gone for good.”

“Yeah.” Merlin nods and lets Arthur lead him down the street to work.

#

Age 15:
Arthur meets Leon on the football pitch, and learns quickly that Leon is absolute pants at football. “I just really like playing anyway.” Leon tell him, bouncing the ball on his knee.

“You should meet Merlin, he makes you look like world cup material.” Arthur catches the ball when it goes into the air.

“You talk about him a lot, you must not have a lot of friends.” Leon teases and Arthur throws the ball at his head.

Leon just dodges it, “I have friends, I guess I just see Merlin a lot.”

“Want me to tell you what I think?”

Arthur rolls his eyes, “Are you my new therapist?”

“You could probably use one.” Leon spins in a circle on his cleats

Arthur watches him closely before laughing and telling him, “I like you, even if you are compete shit at football.”
#

 

Leon keeps his hands folded up underneath his chin when Arthur is talking to him and Arthur hates how he looks like a therapist even when he leaves work. “Are you psychoanalyzing me?”

Leon closes his eyes slowly and lets his hands fall palms down onto the counter of the bar in Arthur’s flat. “Why do you always think I’m judging you?”

Maybe it’s the fact that Arthur is wearing only a pair of basketball shorts and an apron that says ‘World’s Greatest Grandpa’, but Arthur is feeling particularly insecure in that moment. “Because you are! Every time I hang out with you, you act all calm and impartial and stare at me like I’m a complete head case.”

“Got something to tell me, Artie?” Leon’s lips quirk in the beginnings of a smile, “I mean, here I thought I was just coming over to have a few beers and maybe watch some footie, and you’re getting oddly defensive.”

Arthur glares at him, spatula firmly in hand. “I should tell Morgana you’re gay” he stomps back to the stove.

Leon rolls his eyes, “She’ll never go for it. And you shouldn’t be making bacon without a shirt on.” The noise of frustration Arthur makes only sends Leon into a fit of laughter. “Seriously though, Arthur, what’s got you so worked up? I haven’t seen you get like this since Uther told you that you weren’t allowed to go to Gwaine’s graduation party.”

“I’m sorry,” Arthur collapses into a chair across from Leon, letting the greasy spatula fall onto the table, “I think I need a vacation. Somewhere far away. Maybe space.”

“That’s not the Arthur I know. There’s not a single problem you’ve come across without taking it head on and with an arrogance that would put Bono to shame.” At least that makes Arthur grin, even if he does keep his head bent and taps distractedly at the chair between his knees.

A silence spans between them with a tenseness only felt on Arthur’s side of the table and Leon thinks that maybe he should just cut Arthur a break and suggest watching reruns of Spartacus so that he can enjoy the naked men. Instead, Arthur tugs at the front of his hair and keeps his eyes to the floor when he says, “Merlin kissed me last night.”

“Oh,” Leon reaches for his beer, “Is that real bad? I won’t lie, I’ve always assumed you sort of fancied him, you can’t spend a moment away from him without bordering on a panic attack and you always get this sort of faraway look in your eyes when he’s talking to you, and-“

“Alright, I get it. I do though,” Arthur makes a blank gesture to the air, “Fancy him, that is. I think I always have, since I was old enough to know what it meant to like someone –like that.”

“So what’s the problem, he’s kissed you, that’s good.”

“He doesn’t remember.”

Leon puts his head down in his hands, “Only you, Pendragon.”

“Don’t you dare tell Morgana about this, I’ll kill you I swear it. My father knows people.” Arthur cries out in his retreat to the kitchen.

“Why do you think I would tell Morgana?”

“Because you tell her everything” Arthur calls out, “And you know that she gossips with Merlin like it’s her second job.”

Leon wouldn’t tell Morgana this, Arthur sort of knows it deep down. “Do you want my frank and honest advice?” Arthur just nods at him, “I think you should tell Merlin. You’re an adult, Arthur, not a pining schoolboy. Just take him out for a pint, tell him you’re keen on him and then have hours of passionate sex. You’re making this incredibly hard on yourself. Merlin is your best friend, he stuck around after you got entirely pissed after finals and confused him for your professor.”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“You punched him in the face!” Leon scrubs his hand over his face, “Look, just tell him. He’s young, he’s good looking, and his store is slowly becoming the most popular music spot in London, someone is going to move in while you’re wallowing in your teenaged angst.”

Arthur wrinkles his nose and lets out an exhale that borders on a sigh and a whimper. “I’ll think about it.”

“You’re so stupid.” Leon says it more towards his beer than Arthur. Arthur just laughs and quietly sends a text to Morgana letting her know how dashing Leon is looking today.

#

Saturday comes and feels like the busiest day they’ve ever experienced. The blonde girl bouncing around on her toes in front of Arthur is obviously underage and obviously wearing overdone makeup. “So I was just wondering what you would recommend?” She keeps her large brown eyes glued to Arthur’s face like he’s a celebrity.

Arthur makes a vague noise in the back of his throat. “Um, well what do you like?”

The girl moves closer to Arthur, practically presses herself against his side. “Surprise me.” She shoots him a seductive glance.

Arthur glances over her shoulder to see Merlin and Will silently laughing behind the “International Tunes” shelf. He swallows a sigh and plasters on a big grin before tracking down a Lamb of God CD and handing it off to the girl. “Great for long car rides.” Arthur promises and Merlin and Will laugh harder, making a not-so-subtle retreat to a far corner of the store.

When the girl pays for her CD and leaves the store Merlin just shakes his head at Arthur and sprays him in the face with the water bottle he’s been carrying around for dusting. Arthur turns and there’s another teenage girl standing in front of him. “They’re like all really into you.” She says suddenly.

“What?” Arthur finds himself staring at her open-mouthed.

“All the girls that come in here, they talk about you at school and everything.” The girl doesn’t look all too impressed with Arthur however.

Arthur shifts uncomfortably, “That’s nice, I guess.”

“Jamie” She introduces herself. Arthur points vaguely at his nametag and Jamie laughs. “Is he your boyfriend?” She nods in the direction of every single one of his coworkers, all of them failing to look busy.

“I’m not really sure which one you’re talking about, but none of them are, so-“

Jamie squints at them again. “The cute one, with the dark hair. Not the one with the angry face, the one with the dorky ears.”

“Merlin.” Arthur chimes in quickly then blushes, “No he’s not my boyfriend, he’s my best friend.”

“That Merlin” She points at the whiteboard where Will’s message about making Merlin mixed tapes is still scrawled out.

“Unless you know of any other Merlin’s.”

Jamie adopts a very serious expression, “Did he ever get his tapes?” she asks quietly.

Arthur glances back at Merlin who gives him a shrewd grin, “He may have gotten a few.”

“That’s good, he seems like a nice person. I don’t think he would’ve given that girl a Lamb of God CD if she was asking for his advice. Maybe Matt Costa or The Shins.”

Arthur has to laugh at that because Merlin would be a nice person and have given that girl music she would’ve actually enjoyed instead of being a dick. “The kid’s a saint.” Arthur tells her and Jamie grins.

“I won’t tell any of the girls at school that you’re gay, it’s more fun watching them argue with each other over who can sleep with you first.”

“I appreciate that. I think. Either way I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun.” Arthur hands the girl a copy of Lykke Li’s “Wounded Rhymes” and tells her it’s on the house.

Jamie shoves the album into to bag and leans in close to Arthur’s ear, “You may think he’s just your best friend, but I definitely don’t look at my best friend the way he’s looking at you.”

Arthur can feel his cheeks color and glances back just in time to catch Merlin watching him with open concern. He offers up a simple goodbye to the girl and practically flings himself over the counter.

“What was all that about? Pretty sure that girl isn’t legal.” Will watches Jamie leave.

“Never mind that I’m not into girls.” Arthur reminds him.

Merlin slips underneath the queue stands and sidles up to Arthur’s side. Arthur finds it oddly relieving. Like wrapping himself in a warm blanket. “Just another school girl looking for prince charming to sweep them off of their feet and taking them far away from here.”

Will snorts, “Obviously they have ridiculously low standards if they can’t even find a guy that remembers to put on his pants in the morning.”

Arthur shoots him an affronted look, “That’s a personal life choice that I stand behind. And obviously their standards aren’t that low, as none of them have settled for talking to you.” Arthur snaps

Laughing loudly Will holds up his hands, “Sick burn, man, spare me.” He says in a trashy American accent.

“Get him away from me.” Arthur looks at Merlin pleadingly and Merlin just sucks on his teeth and drags Will away with him muttering something about needing help getting the old Christmas lights down from the roof.

“He almost makes me regret working here.” Mordred’s voice surprises Arthur out of his stupor and he startles in his chair. “Will, that is, not Merlin.”

Tilting his head from side to side, Arthur agrees. “I never understood why Merlin always wanted to bring him around when we were younger. It was like he had found this mangey, decrepit stray. And while the rest of us wanted nothing to do with him, Merlin felt like he was the greatest pet in the world.”

Mordred’s laugh is low, “He’s a better person than we are.” He’s talking about Merlin and it makes Arthur swallow hard. “He’s probably too good for you, really.”

The reality of the statement stings, “He is, but I’m selfish.” Arthur digs his thumbnails into his knees.

“A part of me wants you to get really fucking hurt. For him to say no and that you are wasting your time.” Mordred’s voice is laced with hurt despite his stony expression. “But a bigger part of me wants it to work out, and I guess that’s what matters more.”

Arthur watches Mordred and feels a smile threaten his lips. “You’re an incredibly honest person.”

“Someone has to be, don’t you agree?” Mordred asks. “We live in a world full of liars.”

“Alright, calm down, Catcher in the Rye.” Arthur waves his hand lightly and Mordred actually laughs at that.

#

“He’s a posh wanker and he’s probably just over compensating for the fact that he has a tiny prick.” Will complains loudly, dragging a string of lights behind him. Merlin stops in front of him and looks back with a withering glare. “Gross, don’t tell me you’ve seen it.”

Merlin drags the cardboard box labeled “Santa’s Shit” over to where Will is standing and drops it unceremoniously. “I’ve seen his prick, we roomed together at uni.” Merlin reminds him.

Will huffs out indistinct noises of offense. “You’ve slept with Pendragon?!”

“I didn’t say that!” Merlin cries out in defense, his cheeks coloring. “I’m saying that we lived in the same tiny space where he wasn’t always the best about locking the door.”

Merlin shoves the lights into the box and tries to ignore the way the wind on the roof sends a chill through his thin hoodie. “Oh ho, you’re blushing, Emrys. You liked his tiny prick didn’t you?” Will pushes up into Merlin’s personal space. “Is that why you keep hanging out with such a shady arsehole? Waiting for him to give you all access to that? You’re an opportunist, I like that.”

Merlin glares up at Will from where he’s bent over and grits his teeth, “Fuck off, Will. I don’t have an agenda, there just so happens to be a lot of things I like about Arthur and that makes him an all around great friend.”

“Is it his crooked tooth?”

“Will!” Merlin shoves him and Will doubles over with laughter.

They work together in an almost silence, except for the moments when Will breaks out into a shitty rendition of White Wedding by Billy Idol and Merlin can’t stop giggling at him. The rusty roof door is forcefully shoved open and Arthur falls through with the hammer. “I come bearing gifts.” He raises it into the air and quickly goes to work pulling out the nails left behind. “Are you two having fun yet?”

“We were talking about your cock.” Will tells him as casually as he might inquire about the weather.

Arthur sits back on his heels and looks between them. “No doubt telling lies about it, William.”

“You wish I had personal experience, Arty.” Will sneers, “We were talking about how you were shite at locking the door in uni and how Merlin had to put up with years of seeing your micro dick because of your inconsiderate ways.”

Merlin puts his hands up, “I never said that, Will’s practically been talking to himself.”

Arthur grins and sidles up to Will, bringing their hips into close proximity, “If you want a look all you have to do is ask.” He says in a low voice, tugging on his jeans until they sink even lower onto his hips, showing off the top of his pubic hair.

Will cries out in what might be pain and retreats from Arthur as if he’s on fire to where Merlin is laughing at him. “You really brought this on yourself.” Merlin tells him.

Arthur goes back to collecting nails when Merlin tells them he’s not confident enough in leaving Mordred to run the shop by himself and disappears downstairs. With Merlin gone, the air around Arthur and Will goes from teasing to awkward pretty quickly. “You should’ve seen how uncomfortable Merlin got when we started talking about you.” Will breaks the silence.

“Well it wasn’t exactly normal conversation was it?” Arthur reminds him.

Will only shrugs, “Normal enough, for us I mean.” He yanks on a particularly difficult strand of lighting and yanks a bulb out. “Besides, you’re both gay, I figured you guys had -you know- hooked up or whatever.”

Arthur bats Will’s hand away from the lights. “That’s rather ignorant of you to say, Will. Not all gay men sleep together you know?”

“Well why not? Shouldn’t it be more uncomplicated with two blokes? And you guys are good friends.”

“We’ve never had sex.” Arthur reiterates.

Will goes oddly quiet. “I didn’t just mean sex. Look, Merlin -Merlin is a good person and he means a lot to me, even if you don’t approve of me in your snobby little world.” Arthur rolls his eyes but Will continues, “I’m just afraid that he has feelings for you that are more than ‘just friends’.”

Arthur swallows, “Why would you say that?”

“Maybe I’m not reading him properly, but he looks at you like you’re not an obnoxious prat. Like you’re speaking and the words you say are made of fucking puppies and rainbows. He looks at you like you’re the only thing in this entire world.” Will chews awkwardly on the inside of his lip and Arthur finds himself staring at him in shock. Will seems to sense that Arthur is completely besides himself in trying to find words to say and punches Arthur in the shoulder. “But you’re a stuffy arse and also an ugly idiot so I’m probably wrong. He’s probably just looking at you because he’s in shock that someone so inefficient has survived this long.”

There’s no conviction behind Will’s words and Arthur has to grin at him. “Yeah probably. Some sort of community service on Merlin’s part.”

Will smiles and Arthur feels like maybe he doesn’t hate Will as much as he thought he did.
#

Age 19 (Merlin)
He gets the phone call at close to two o clock in the morning. Gaius is crying and he knows what he’s going to say to him. “I’m so sorry, Merlin, I think you should come home for a little bit.”

Merlin feels as if he’s the one that’s died. “Mum?”

“Gone, Merlin. It was quick, she didn’t feel anything.” He isn’t aware of hanging up the phone or even getting out of bed, but he finds himself in Arthur’s room and curls up on Arthur’s mattress and cries until he passes out.

The next morning Arthur drives him home and stays with him for a week.

#

 

Merlin’s skin feels too hot and he knows that not all of that is from the fire. He’s vaguely aware of a fireman telling him he’s standing too close, that he needs to move back, and Will cursing loudly in the street, but it all sounds distant and muffled, like the volume is turned down low. He allows himself to be led away to the far sidewalk, where he watches his record store, his life, burn down in front of him.

When he hears Arthur’s voice through the roar of the fire, it’s almost a comfort. He wraps his arms around Merlin and suddenly everything is incredibly loud again. The roar of the fire, the crashing noises inside the store, firefighters and police officers and Arthur saying his name over and over again like it’s the only thing he can say. Merlin turns to Arthur, there are ashes in his hair, smudged across his left cheek and he’s wearing a Pink Floyd shirt. The one with the man on fire. Merlin laughs tiredly and Arthur looks at him as if he’s deranged. “Merlin, do you know what happened? No one is really telling me anything.”

Merlin gestures vaguely to the blaze that was once the shop front, “No work today.”

Arthur buries his face in Merlin’s neck and laughs, setting Merlin off again. He can’t help it, he either has to laugh or he’ll start sobbing on the pavement in front of the massive crowd of people that have come for the bonfire. Merlin settles on running his hand lightly up and down Arthur’s spine, feeling each notch of bone through the worn cotton fabric of his shirt and Arthur practically crawls onto Merlin, trying to get closer. He glances back and notices something square and bulky in Arthur’s back pocket, the firelight glinting orange off of the plastic. Merlin works it out of Arthur’s jeans slowly while Arthur is distracted by the circles being rubbed between his shoulder blades. It’s a familiar sight by now, a cassette tape with a hand-decorated insert. Merlin’s heart beats rapidly and if Arthur can feel it, he doesn’t say anything, and Merlin slides the tape into his own pocket. He rubs his nose in Arthur’s soft blond hair, kisses him on the temple and tells him, “You smell like smoke.” He nods in the direction of Mordred and Will talking with a police officer. “Let’s go see what they’re doing before they get themselves arrested for something.”

Mordred has his favorite scowl on after its few months in retirement and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth loosely. “Officer Who-gives-a-shit says they think it was arson.”

Will trots up next to him singing We Didn’t Start the Fire and gets more than half the lyrics wrong. “I say, fuck the law, let’s do this vigilante style and kill the bastard that did this. Like batman, innit?”

“We’re not killing anyone.” Merlin pinches the bridge of his nose and shakes his head. “I can’t talk to them right now.”

There’s a group of people collected on the sidewalk, most of them patrons of the store. One of them yells something about not knowing there was supposed to be a bonfire today and Will goes hurtling himself over the police line.

Will is all fists and curse words and Merlin’s life still hasn’t clicked into the right pace. Thank god that Arthurs is, and he rips Will to the ground shouting obscenities in Will’s face as an attempt to calm him down. “It doesn’t matter Will, it doesn’t fucking matter.” Arthur yells, wiping sweat and ash out of his face, only helping to spread it around more. Mordred joins Merlin at his side and Merlin knows that Mordred is watching him closely.

“I’m not going to start fighting anyone if that’s what you’re worried about.” Merlin tells him and Mordred smile sadly,

“No, you’re really not the type.” Mordred tells him.

Leon comes to pick them up and take them back to his house and deposits a zombie-like Merlin onto his couch. Morgana shows up moments after them with Gaius is tow. The old man rushes over to Merlin and takes his face in his hands, “Are you alright, Merlin? Did you get hurt in the fire?”

Merlin watches him numbly, “I wasn’t inside when it started.” He mutters. Gaius lets out a relieved sigh and claps Merlin on the shoulder. He stands to walk away and is stopped with a light tug on his fingers. Looking up at him from the couch, Merlin looks everything like the five year old boy that Hunith had left in his shop and wearing nothing of the overworked shell he had grown over the past few years. “I’m sorry.” He says so quietly to Gaius that it’s practically a whisper. Gaius pulls him into a fierce hug and Merlin lets out a muffled sob into Gaius’s shirt.

Everyone has the good grace to remain quiet as Merlin seems to come undone in Gaius’s embrace, even Will holds back any remarks he might have. Morgana nudges Arthur with her shoulder and nods towards Merlin when he looks at her. “Help him”, she mouths.

He reeks of smoke and he feels as if he’s suffocating in a layer of ash and dirt, but Arthur offers Gaius a thankful smile and kneels down in front of Merlin. Gaius ushers everyone away from the couch with the help of Leon promising to make them all tea. “Merlin, hey.” Arthur wraps his fingers around the back of Merlin’s neck, but Merlin keeps his face buried in his hands. “Look at me. It’s going to be alright, everything is going to be perfect, I promise.”

“Are you going to fix everything, Arthur Pendragon.” Merlin can’t quite meet his eyes yet, but there’s a teasing hint in his voice and Arthur huffs out a small laugh.

“You’re damn right I will, don’t you know who my father is?” It makes Merlin laugh. “Come on, you need a shower and some rest. But mostly a shower, you look like a chimney sweep.” Arthur pulls Merlin to his feet and guides him to the bathroom, playing with the taps to get the water running while Merlin stands around looking like a helpless baby deer.

When Arthur moves towards the bathroom door to leave, Merlin blocks his way. “Arthur.” He fidgets with something in his back pocket before producing a cassette tape that he clutches tightly to him.

“Oh.” Arthur feels a sudden unease even the fire didn’t create, “Your secret admirer gave you another one, huh?” The lie sounds bad even to his own ears.

“Tell me.” Merlin steps closer to him, “Please tell me it’s you and not someone you’re just delivering it for.”

Arthur swallows hard, “You want that? For it to be me?” Merlin only nods his head lightly and Arthur lets out a small relieved noise. He brings his hands up to tangle his fingers into Merlin’s tangled black hair and presses their mouths together.

It’s a soft kiss and Arthur feels on the verge of tears with the fragileness of it all. Merlin laughs quietly against his lips and runs his hands up Arthur’s sides. “You’re so affectionate.”

Arthur doesn’t answer him, only shoves Merlin’s shirt up over his head and kisses him with a new ferocity. “Didn’t think I could tell you -thought you would tell me no.”

Breathless, Merlin toes off his tattered old converses and nips along Arthur’s jaw, “When have I ever told you no for anything?” He runs his hand over Arthur’s erection through his jeans and Arthur nearly buckles at the knees. “I let you have my economics term paper because you had to bat your eyelashes over those pretty blue eyes.”

“You think I’m pretty?” Arthur pushes Merlin up onto the bathroom counter, a coy smile on his face.

“Prat.” Merlin’s head falls back against the mirror with a thud and Arthur laughs. “Are you going to help me take a shower?”

Arthur leans in close to Merlin’s face and bites his lip seductively, before ruining the effect entirely by saying, “Useless at everything.”

“Arthur.” Merlin shoves Arthur away and rips a towel off of the rack with exaggerated wrath. “Get naked, or I’m going to kick you out of the bathroom and pretend that it was Mordred that gave me those tapes instead.”

He doesn’t respond, but Arthur strips off the rest of his clothes and wraps himself around Merlin’s back, his half hard cock rubbing against Merlin’s arse and making him whimper. He runs his hand gently up and down Merlin’s stomach and threatens to reach between his legs, reveling in the shortened breaths Merlin lets out. “ ‘ve wanted you for so long. Had to listen to you fuck all those other boys in uni, imagined it was my name you were screaming.”

“I’m not-“ Merlin swallows hard, “I’m not much of a screamer.”

“Liar.” Arthur smiles against the back of Merlin’s neck before pressing a row of kisses against his spine. “Get in the shower, I want to make all of our friends uncomfortable with how loud you get.”

Merlin set to being quiet with a steely resolve while Arthur sucked his cock and managed -barely- to not pass out when he came on his face. They even managed to sneak back into Leon’s guest room from the bathroom without notice from their friends who were still awake or loitering around Leon’s flat. “I guess we should go out there and mourn with everyone else?” Merlin reaches for his pants only to have them swatted out of his hand by Arthur.

“Or you could let me make everything better and fuck you senseless.”

“Sounds like you’re getting a lot out of this yourself.” Merlin quirks an eyebrow at him.

“Of course I am, I just lost my job too!” Arthur shoves Merlin back onto the bed and stands over him, stroking his cock lazily.

“Mmmm.” Merlin stretches out, watching Arthur touch himself “This is a nice view.”

Arthur just grins smugly and climbs on top of Merlin, pressing their hard lengths together and eliciting a loud moan from Merlin. “I’m going to ruin you for anybody else, just so you know.” Arthur grinds down again before disappearing beneath the sheets. Instead of another blowjob though, Arthur turns Merlin onto his side and spreads him open, pressing a light kiss against his hole.

“A-Arthur!” Merlin yelps and Arthur lets his tongue run lightly over his entrance a few times. “Please tell me you have stuff on you.”

“Stuff?” Arthur’s voice is muffled underneath the sheets.

“Yeah stuff. Lube, condoms.” Merlin buries his face in the pillow as Arthur slips a finger in alongside his tongue.

Arthur nips at the back of Merlin’s thigh, “I don’t, but we can see if Leon’s got anything.”

Arthur rolls off of the bed and proceeds to strut around the room with all the dignity a man with a raging hard on can muster, checking drawers for anything slippery that can be put safely inside of someone. “I found some massage oil?” He holds up the bottle to read the label and Merlin snatches it out of Arthur’s hand.

“Perfect, please come fuck me now.”

Arthur fiddles with a particularly interesting looking hangnail for a moment before letting out a great sigh. “No condoms.”

Merlin feels ready to start crying, he’s that frustrated. “I’m clean.” He blurts out. “I mean, I went to get tested after I broke up with Cenred and found out he was cheating with all those men. I’m clean though, I haven’t been with anyone since.”

Arthur lights up, “So am I, just had my exam done last month.” Arthur leaps onto the bed and ruts against Merlin like an animal, making Merlin laugh.

Anyone else and Merlin would have taken the sexual frustration and gone home to sulk, but this was Arthur. And if there was anything Arthur was good at, it was keeping Merlin safe. Arthur stroked himself into full hardness and drizzled an obscene amount of massage oil onto the small of Merlin’s back before dragging him cock through it a few times. His actions become suddenly sweeter, loving even, as he presses gentle kisses along Merlin’s shoulder blades and whispers endearments into his skin. The tip of his prick teases at Merlin’s hole and has him writhing back against Arthur desperately, a litany of ‘please, Arthur please’ rolling off his tongue. Finally Arthur pushes into him with a solid thrust and Merlin cries out against the pillow.

Arthur’s fingers dig into Merlin’s hips, bracing him as Arthur tries not to embarrass himself and come right then. He’s never done this without a condom and it feels fucking incredible. It doesn’t help that this is Merlin, and he’s wanked to the thought of Merlin since he was fourteen years old. And apparently he’s said the last part aloud because Merlin lets out a breathless laugh and turns his head to the side, asking him “That long?”

Swallowing hard, Arthur nods. “Is that too weird?” he starts thrusting slowly and buries his nose into Merlin’s hair. Merlin just shakes his head and lets out a long, whining moan.

They move together too slowly, too tenderly, and Merlin thinks he might cry from it all. Merlin chants Arthur’s name breathlessly and scrambles to twine his fingers with Arthur’s before he comes all over the sheets beneath him. He rides out Arthur’s quickened new pace as a boneless heap on the mattress and whimpers when Arthur fills him up, hot and overwhelming.

Merlin’s vaguely aware of Arthur spooning up behind him, kissing him soothingly on the neck while he collects his conscious mind. “Arthur.” He’s almost embarrassed for how needy Arthur’s name sounds on his lips. “You made me all of those tapes.”

It’s not a question but Arthur nods anyway. “I wasn’t going to tell you.”

“Why not?” Merlin runs his fingers lightly over Arthur’s ribs and revels in the shiver it sends through him.

“I didn’t want you not to like me.” He confesses quietly.

Merlin moves in closer to Arthur and pushes his fingers into Arthur’s hair. “I think I love you.”

His heart is hammering in his chest and he feels vulnerable and open like this. Post orgasm and having just told his best friend he loves him. But Arthur rolls back on top of Merlin and kisses him deeply. “God, I’ve dreamed about hearing you say that.” He breathes against Merlin’s lips before kissing him again. “I love you too.”

“Today has been a really weird day.” Merlin admits and the there is a knock at the door. Neither of them say anything or make a move to answer it.

“Merlin?” It’s Morgana. “Are you sleeping?”

He glances over to Arthur, who scowls and pulls the sheets over his head. “Er, no?”

“Oh” There’s a moment of silence on the other side of the door. “Can you open the door?” Merlin shuffles awkwardly to the edge of the bed, wraps himself up in the blanket and Arthur burrows himself further into obscurity. He let’s the door open up slightly. “Hey, we were all just a little worried, we wanted to make sure you were doing all right.”

Merlin nods, “Yeah I’m alright, I think maybe in shock a little?”

“Of course, yeah.” Morgana says in her most understanding motherly voice. “By the way have you seen Arthur anywhere? He disappeared a little bit ago, we all think maybe he went home but-“ She takes in Merlin’s guilty expression before pushing her way into the room and punching the pile of sheets that is Arthur. “Oh my god, is this how you comfort your friends you dumb prick?”

Arthur groans loudly and shoves the sheets off of his head. “Go away, Morgana!” He sounds like a child.

“No way! We’ve been looking for you, you know. We were all so worried and then I was angry because I thought you left Merlin alone in his time of need.” She grins wickedly, “Guess you found a way to be helpful after all.”

Merlin blushes and pulls the blanket tighter around him. “We’ll come out. You can tell everyone not to worry.” He shrugs haplessly.

Morgana pats him on the head, “No rush, I’ll let everyone know you’re busy.”

She offers up one last punch to Arthur’s shoulder before leaving the room. Merlin lets Arthur manhandle back into a cuddle as the sound of Will yelling “No fucking way!” carries into the room.

#

“There’s heaps of shit about filing claims and listing assets and not to mention the police are up my arse every five minutes. I think I would’ve rather cut our losses at this point.” Mordred slings an envelope across the living room, hitting Will in the face. “Who burns down a fucking record shop?”

“You seem like the kind of guy who collects enemies everywhere you go, why don’t you tell us?” Arthur doesn’t look up from the police report when he speaks.

Instead of arguing, Mordred tilts his head as if wondering which person he pissed off enough to burn down his place of work. “Maybe it was a rival music store. The bassist for that ridiculous metal band seemed pretty pissed with us for not inviting them back.” Merlin says, rubbing the corner of his eye with his thumb.

“Knife Punch.” Will says, “That was the name of the band.”

Will and Mordred proceed to argue over whether or not it was Knife Punch and if they should kill them. Merlin nudges Arthur’s knee with his toe and Arthur smirks and scoots in closer to him. “What do you think?” Arthur asks, resting his head on Merlin’s shoulder.

“I don’t think it was a metal band, really. Maybe we should stop trying to play detectives and let the police handle it?” Merlin trails his hand up and down Arthur’s back gently.

“You two are a for real thing now?” Will interrupts. “What about mystery mixed tape man, you cheating whore?”

Mordred shakes his head, “Arthur was mystery mixed tape man, fucking idiot.”

Merlin hides -poorly- a snort behind his hand and Will let’s out a small ‘huh’. “That’s amazing, Pendragon, I didn’t know you had real sensitive feelings in there.” He narrows his eyes at Arthur.

“I just don’t have any sensitive feelings for you.” Arthur sniffs.

“All this wasted time and you could’ve been going at it.” Will says, “Shame, all that wasted time.”

“Alright.” Merlin interrupts. “Let’s not get all invested into our personal lives right now, we still have a store we need to reopen.”

 

“A crispy, cinder haven.” Mordred says solemnly.

Arthur waves a stack of poorly folded letters at them, “Not for long, these are of the claims. Money for ages and whatever we win from suing. We could make Spin Cycle even better than it was before, with money to spare.”

“And we have Morgana for a lawyer, she even scares me.” Mordred confesses.

“Think of this as a mini holiday. No work until the store’s rebuilt.” Merlin tells them and Will holds his hands up as if praising the heavens. “Stop it, you hardly do anything when you’re not there.”

“I could be out on the pull, you don’t know.”

Will doesn’t stay much longer, claiming numbers bore him and Mordred leaves to talk to ‘this guy he knows’ to see if he can find out who did it, leaving Merlin and Arthur alone in the living room.

Arthur collects Merlin into his lap and quickly goes to work on kissing his neck but Merlin is clearly distracted. “Are you still thinking of Will trying to pick up girls in the pub?”

“No,” Merlin doesn’t even try to play into the joking, letting his shoulders sag, “I don’t know what to do with the store gone. It was everything, it was our lives, and now I can’t even think about walking down that block and not seeing it. Gaius is so disappointed, I know he is, even if he isn’t saying anything.”

Arthur yanks Merlin’s shirt over his head and Merlin shivers in the chill of the air conditioning. “It’s not completely gone though. We’re going to have it up and running in no time, if anything the fire is going to give us even more publicity.” He kisses Merlin squarely on the chest, “think of this as an extended vacation.”

“That was our childhood.” Merlin protests weakly.

“No.” Arthur kisses Merlin’s lips softly, “You were my childhood. It just happened to take place in a dusty old record shop most of the time.” He kisses Merlin again sweetly, digging his fingers into Merlin’s hair. “Let me take care of you for now.”

Merlin wraps his legs around Arthur’s waist, “I’ll try.”

They shed their clothing quickly and Merlin end up straddling him on the living room floor, slowly sinking down on his cock while telling him that he’s still open from earlier.

“Let’s run away.” Arthur says, thrusting up into Merlin, “No more store, we’ll go live on my father’s property in Australia.” He pushes Merlin over onto his hands and knees and shoves back inside of him, causing Merlin to cry out.

“Can I get a koala?” Merlin gasps out and Arthur laughs.

Arthur doesn’t last long, and pulls out only in time to come all over the carpet and receive a flick on the nose from Merlin for it. They lay in a tangled sweaty mess on the floor and kiss lazily. “I’m serious about getting away though. At least for a little. We could stay on the beach and take surfing lessons, just like you always wanted to.”

Merlin untangles himself from Arthur and lets out a sigh, “I wish I could Arthur, but we can’t run away from this. At least not right now.” He leans forward to kiss Arthur, only for Arthur to turn his face away. “Are you mad at me?”

“I’m not mad. Just a little disappointed maybe.” Arthur keeps his eyes focused on a smudge on the wall.

“Arthur.” Merlin looks wounded

“It’s alright.” Arthur forces a small smile and kisses Merlin quickly on the lips. “We don’t have to go anywhere.”

Merlin frowns, but nods and curls himself up in Arthur’s lap. They stay like that in a comfortable silence while Merlin tugs at the shiny blond hair on Arthur’s kneecap when finally Merlin buries his face in Arthur’s neck and says, “Once they find out who did it, we can go to Australia. We’ll leave the very next day, I promise.”

Arthur hums an acknowledgement and Merlin can’t help but laugh when Arthur’s stony exterior cracks and he pushes Merlin out onto the carpet and eagerly sucks his cock into his mouth. Arthur makes obscene wet noises and Merlin winds his fingers into thick golden hair, “Fuck, Arthur.” Arthur roughly works two fingers into Merlin’s abused hole and Merlin cries out. The slight ache only makes it better for him when he comes in Arthur’s mouth.

#

Arthur is torn between being horrified and being really fucking proud of Leon when he walks in on him and Morgana having sex. He opts to slap his hands over his eyes and cry out in anguish.

He lets himself angst on the couch while they finish up in the bedroom and Morgana just leans against the television with only a bathrobe and an evil smirk on. “Oh, get over it, I walked in on you and Merlin.”

“You did not! We weren’t doing anything when you walked in.” He pouts and Leon tilts his head apologetically.

“I imagine you’re not here to talk about our sex lives?” Morgana continues.

“Fuckin’ right I’m not.” Arthur holds up an envelope. “The police have a suspect in custody.”

Morgan practically leaps onto the couch and Leon lets himself collapse into a chair. “Tell me! Tell me!”

“Calm down, Satan.” Arthur shoves her off of him, “The police arrested Cenred last night. They say he showed up on the CCTV camera’s that night.”

Leon snatches the envelope out of his hand and lets out a low whistle, “Wow, I always knew that guy was creepy, but arson? Did the police tell you why he did it?”

“They haven’t interrogated him yet, but I imagine a big part of it had to do with Merlin not wanting to sleep with him anymore.” Arthur says.

Morgana looks shell shocked, which is a first for her, “He must have the most magical fucking arse in all of the civilized world if Cenred would burn down a building for it.”

“It is,” Arthur snaps defensively, “And stop talking about my boyfriends arse.”

Morgana curls her lip at him in a mockery of a snarl. “It says here he made ‘an unsettling threat’ towards Merlin to a close friend of his who turned in the accused. What does Merlin think about all this?” Leon rubs at the spot between his eyebrows with his thumb.

Arthur shifts uncomfortably on the couch, “Well, he doesn’t actually know yet. He went over to Gaius’s to sort through some of the things the firefighters saved from the fire. The police called right after he left. I was going to tell him when he got home.”

“He’s going to have a stroke when he finds out.” Morgana looks smug

“Don’t you dare text him, Morgana, I’m serious.” Arthur reaches over the couch to grab the envelope back from Leon, “I want to tell him myself.”

“What happens when Cenred gets out of jail, or his friends catch wind of you guys putting him behind bars?” Morgana asks.

“He has me, I’ll keep him safe.” Arthur declares.

Morgana snorts loudly and Leon can’t help but smile. “Remember that time we went camping and you had a spider in your hair and I had to get it out for you because you kept hitting your head? Are you going to do that to Cenred?” Leon asks and Morgana is positively beside herself laughing.

“Fuck you guys.” Arthur pushes himself off the couch, “This is more important than a spider and you two are shitty friends.”

The words sober them up almost instantly and Leon nods, “You’re right, this is more important. We’ll help you talk to him if you want.”

Morgana stands up to wrap her arms around Arthur, “With clothes on, of course.”

Arthur grins, “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say we should probably invite over Mordred and Will for this too. I recall them working there sometimes.”

“Will’s going to try and kill Cenred. He’ll probably get arrested himself.” Leon concedes.

“If we’re lucky.” Arthur adds.

Morgana grins and leans her chin on Arthur’s shoulder. “I don’t know why you act like that towards Will, you fucking love that stupid kid.”

Arthur feels a dry heave coming on. “No, Merlin loves that stupid kid. I think he should be sectioned most days.” His phone vibrates loudly in his pocket and he fumbles it open. “Speaketh of the devil and he shall come forth on his fiery text message. Will wants to know what we’re all doing.”

“Tell him to come over, I miss seeing him around.” Leon chimes in.

Arthur rolls his eyes, “Really? You too?” He leaves a hanging moment of silence for anyone at all to protest before he texts Will to come over. “I’m going to tell Mordred and Merlin to come by since we’re at it and Leon’s always forcing my hand at shit anyways.”

Leon doesn’t even have the decency to look offended. “What did he ever do to you?” Morgana asks, affronted.

“He did that crazy mind thing and made me talk about my feelings for Merlin.”

“Didn’t Merlin find the tape in your back pocket?”

“That’s really not the point.” Arthur shakes his phone at Morgana. “I was going to do it anyway.”

Leon shrugs, “He really wasn’t.”

Will shows up on the coattails of his text with a half emptied beer and a horrible handmade beanie shoved onto his head. He pieces together Morgana and Leon’s new relationship status fairly quickly and Arthur gives him credit for being smarter than he had originally assumed and spends the next fifteen minutes before Mordred arrives glaring harshly at Leon.

Mordred collapses stiffly into a chair that he’s pilfered from the kitchen and lets his icy blue eyes dart around the room. “I’m guessing a serious sort of meeting is about to happen here?”

“You always were a quick one.” Will practically snarls.

Mordred only smiles at him, “You’re adorable, William.”

There’s no obvious response to it, and Will takes a sudden interest in the carpet. Arthur fights of a grin, “It’s a pretty serious meeting, yeah.”

“Seeing as our place of work just burnt to the ground, could it get much worse?” Mordred wrinkles his nose at Arthur. He gets a sinking suspicion that Mordred has never quite forgiven him for the one-way blowjob in the backroom.

Arthur doesn’t grace him with an answer, only watches Will take a long pull from his beer and stumble towards the vicinity of the front door when there’s a knock. Merlin has his old Spiderman backpack slung over his shoulder and he gives Will a once over. “Are you drunk? It’s only just noon.”

“What if I told you I haven’t stopped drinking since last night, would that make it better?” Will raises an eyebrow.

Merlin only stares at him for a moment. “Fuck no, it doesn’t actually.” He wrenches Will’s beer from his hand and ignores the spluttering protests. “So what are we all doing here? Is this going to be an intervention for Will?”

“I don’t actually care enough about Will’s liver to show up for something like that.” Mordred says, mostly to the ceiling, as he slouches further into his chair.

Merlin settles himself onto the floor next to Arthur and Arthur sneaks a kiss to his cheek. “The police called me down today when you were at Gaius’s.” Merlin looks at Arthur warily and Mordred actually sits up in his chair. “They have Cenred in custody over the fire.”

“I should kill him.” Will states, matter-of-factly and Merlin pulls his knees up to his chest, looking like a lost child.

“It my fault?” He asks Arthur quietly and Arthur pulls him tightly into his chest.

“God, no, it’s not your fault. If anything it’s probably because me and Will harassed him about wiring in the shop. It put ideas in his head, I’m sure of it.” He curls his fingers into the short hairs on the back of Merlin’s neck.

Arthur figures he’s in for a long night of comforting and talking Merlin down from bouts of hysterical crying, so he’s surprised when Merlin becomes irrationally angry and threatens murder on everyone in association with Cenred. Leon pulls Merlin to the floor when he makes a wild dash to the front door and attempts to get words in over the constant stream of obscenities. “It’s done, Merlin, you have to let it go.” Leon is using his most professional therapist voice and Arthur crawls along the carpet until his face is even with Merlin’s.

“They have him now, he’s gonna get fucked up by the law.” He tells Merlin, yanking roughly on his hair.

Merlin breathes heavily, forehead shoved into the floor. “He ruined everything, he always ruins everything.”

“That’s a bit dramatic.” Arthur works Merlin out from underneath Leon but keeps his hold on him tight in case he decides to bolt. “Everything is going to sort out, it’s well on its way.”

“Don’t give him your energy, mate.” Will is bouncing like a child without his medication between his feet, “Karma and all that. Besides, Mordred probably dabbles in voodoo, like, he’ll get ‘im.”

Mordred scowls but doesn’t object. Arthur rubs his hands down Merlin’s neck, “Do you want to see my tape deck?” he presses a kiss to Merlin’s knuckles.

Morgana makes a sound from behind Leon, “I really hope that’s not a shitty euphemism, Arthur.”

“It’s not,” Arthur snaps. Merlin watches Arthur from behind a pout that he refuses to believe is adorable. “It records straight off of the computer it’s great.”

Merlin looks between the floor and a blank spot on his wall and schools his features to hide how childishly excited the idea of a tape deck makes him. Finally, he lets out a sigh, “Yeah I guess we can.”

Leon has no problem escorting everyone -except for Morgana- out of his home to go their separate ways. Will clings to Mordred, who seems unable to shake him and they leave to Gwaine’s, and Arthur loads Merlin silently into his car.

Merlin keeps his forehead pressed against the window the entire ride, hands moving restlessly in his lap. He turns the volume up on Arthur’s radio twice in a five minute span before quickly turning it back down and asking Arthur where exactly they’re going. “Your flat is on the other side of town.” His voice is uncertain, like Arthur might be taking him out to a field to dump his body where no one will find him.

“You spend a lot of time at my place, I didn’t want you to see the tape deck, so I couldn’t really keep it there could I?”

Merlin looks almost proud of Arthur for his foresight, “So where is it then?”

Arthur purses his lips and fidgets with his steering wheel, “Uther’s?”

There’s a painful silence before Merlin snorts, “Uther’s? You’re not quite sure it’s at Uther’s or you can’t bring yourself to believe that your dad would let you into his house with musical equipment?”

“Maybe a little bit of both. I asked him not to throw it out, but he may have stumbled into the guest room and realized it wasn’t a family heirloom and tossed it.” Arthur shakes his head and Merlin laughs. The sound of it is incredibly relieving to Arthur.

“Did you ever tell him what it was for?” Merlin asks nervously.

Arthur sneaks a glance at Merlin, “I didn’t, but he never asked. You know how things are with Uther.”

Of course Merlin knew -better than most- he had grown up a working class boy with too large ears and a hippie mother, spending more than half his time rolling around the expensive Moroccan tile of the Pendragon mansion. His very being had mortified Uther for the longest time, as if Arthur had brought in a mangy feral cat and wanted to call it a pet, until they were well into their teenage years and Merlin had carried a dangerously drunk Arthur to his bedroom and sat by his side the entire night to make sure he was alright. Uther had the kitchen staff cook up breakfast for Merlin and leaned forward like he had actually thought about giving Merlin a hug. Merlin just smiled and gnawed on a piece of bacon.

It’s entirely unsurprising when an unknown servant answers the door for Merlin and Arthur when they get there and promptly greets Arthur with a “Master Pendragon.”

Merlin bursts into hysterical laughter and Arthur just mumbles something under his breath and shoves his way into the house. “Where’s my father at?”

The servant keeps his stony expression, “He is currently in his study and has informed me that he does not wish to be disturbed at this time.”

“Lovely, but I’m his son, so I’m gonna go ahead and help myself in if that’s alright with you.” Arthur grabs Merlin’s hand and drags him through the house.

“Are we really going to talk to your dad right now?” Merlin glances around the familiar home.

Arthur snorts, “Absolutely no, I’m taking you straight to the guest room.” He backs Merlin up against the wall and leans in dangerously close to him. “I’m going to show you my tape deck.” He kisses Merlin slowly, dipping his tongue into his mouth. “And you’re going to be so turned on you’re going to want to ride my-“

“Ahem” Arthur spins around to an uncomfortable looking Uther. Merlin doubles over with laughter and even Uther smirks a little. “It’s good to see you again Merlin.”

Arthur covers his eyes with his hand and groans, “I thought you were in your study.”

“I was.” Uther replies, “And then James told me that my son bum rushed his way through and I thought I would see what he was up to. Seems I’ve interrupted something.”

Merlin clears his throat, “Not really, we were just going to the guest room.”

“I can’t imagine what for.” Uther tilts his head and the sarcastic joking from him is enough to make Arthur dizzy. “I guess that explains why you were always spending the night.”

“We actually only started dating about two weeks ago when the store burned down.” Merlin says cheerily.

Uther looks between them suspiciously before his expression softens, “I am sorry about your store, I can see to it that our family lawyers clean this up for you, free of pay.”

Arthur gestures for them to move their conversation out of the stairwell, “We have Morgana actually.”

“Even better.” Uther follows them towards the guest room. When Arthur stops outside of the door and stares at his father with a sort of teenage anticipation Uther just sighs and tells him, “I am hoping for an explanation to the tape deck that’s been sitting in here for the past few months.”

“You noticed it?” Arthur shares a look of confusion with Merlin.

“Of course I noticed it, it’s a complete eyesore.” Uther huffs.

Arthur grins like he knows some dirty little secret of his father’s, “I was making tapes, what else would I be doing with it. Now, I know I haven’t said this to you since I was fourteen, but go away, dad.”

Uther ruffles Arthur’s hair fondly and disappears, no doubt to the shadiest corner of the house. “Is it just me or is your old man getting soft in his years?” Merlin wonders after Uther.

“He’s lonely I think. He’ll never admit it but he loved having us running all over this place.” Arthur shoves Merlin through the door and shuts it quickly behind them. He clicks the lock into place and Merlin raises an eyebrow. “I was serious about the sex, it would be for the best if my dad didn’t catch us going at it. Or James.” He says the servants name in his best House of the Lords manner.

“And you think I’m really just going to put out for you because of a tape deck?” Merlin asks, even though he is completely enamored by the large wooden box sitting on the desk, cables running to Arthur’s old laptop.

Arthur sits back and watches Merlin drop to his knees in front of it, saying nothing as he plays with the dials. “Well, I guess I was hoping you would want me because you maybe love me?” He says after a moment.

Merlin looks at him all doe eyed and Arthur sucks on his teeth and rolls his eyes. “Come here, loser.” He pulls Merlin against him and pretends he’s not feeling like he’s seconds away from melting at his feet. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a bed about two feet away from us.”

He could feel Merlin’s near silent laughter against his neck where he kept his face tucked away. “You’re insatiable. I swear, you must’ve been exhausted when we were teenagers.”

“You didn’t help.” Arthur said honestly, steering Merlin towards the obnoxiously massive bed. “Sleeping over in just your boxers.”

Merlin kisses him and it’s wet and dirty. “I was a scrawny waif.” He reminds Arthur.

“You were fucking beautiful.” There is a rawness in Arthur’s voice and it makes him feel incredibly embarrassed to be so open. Merlin only kisses the insecurities away and maneuvers Arthur onto his back, sucking kisses into his collarbone. They way he looks at Arthur as if he’s wanted this just as much makes Arthur pull Merlin’s shirt over his head and fumble to cover as much of his body with his hands as possible.

Arthur takes his time with Merlin, something he should have done when they first fell into bed together. He uses his fingers and his mouth to make him squirm. Wants to hear all of the tiny noises that escape from Merlin. And then Merlin does the same to him before rolling onto his stomach and presenting his arse to Arthur.

Crawling off the bed, Arthur grabs Merlin’s hips and pulls him so that he’s bent over the side of the mattress, feet barely touching the carpet. “Maybe you should hang on.” Arthur teases, rutting his cock against Merlin’s backside.

Merlin laughs and it’s muffled in the sheets and Arthur can vaguely make out being called an idiot. He wrestles open the bedside drawer and lets a generous amount of lube drip onto Merlin’s arse. “’s cold.” Merlin fidgets and Arthur rubs against him harder, letting his cock tease against Merlin’s hole.

“Look so good like this, love.” Arthur lets his open palm travel up Merlin’s back and rest between his shoulder blades. He pushes Merlin into the mattress, holding him in place with a sturdy hand digging into his hipbone before pushing himself inside of Merlin with one steady stroke.

Merlin feels dizzy with the pleasure of it and tries his best to press himself further back onto Arthur. “Gonna fuck you so hard.” Arthur drapes himself over Merlin’s back to whisper into his ear, the tone of his voice filthy as he grinds his hips, pressing his cock impossibly deep inside of him. “I’m going to make you scream for it. Fill you up and then fuck you again until my cum is leaking out of you.”

“Please” Merlin whimpers, “Arthur.”

“Please, what? Say it, Merlin, tell me what you want.”

Arthur pulls out only an inch and works back into him with tiny thrusts until he has Merlin bunching up the sheets in his fist. “I want you to fuck me. Hard, I want to feel it for days.”

Arthur presses a gentle kiss to Merlin’s neck before pulling out almost completely and slamming back in. He sets a brutal pace, has Merlin crying out his name just like he promised. From this angle, Arthur can watch himself move in and out of Merlin’s eager hole and it’s possibly the hottest thing that Arthur’s ever seen. It only takes a few more thrusts before he’s coming deep inside of Merlin.

Merlin twitches uncomfortably underneath him, attempting to rub his own erection out in the sheets but Arthur only lays himself over Merlin and stills him. “I’m going to stay inside of you until I’m ready to fuck you again. Don’t move and let me take care of you?”

Merlin nods his head shallowly and Arthur uses his knee to push Merlin’s leg up onto the bed. He reaches behind him and lets his fingers run lightly over Merlin’s tightly drawn balls and Merlin whines. “I want to keep you here forever. Naked in bed and on the edge. I would make you feel so good, all the time.” Arthur tilts them to the side so that he can gently stroke Merlin’s cock.

“God, Arthur, I had no idea you were so filthy.” Merlin huffs out, “I love it.” Arthur bites at his shoulder and quickens the pace of his hand until Merlin is choking out a sob and spilling, hot and wet over Arthur’s hand. He clenches around Arthur’s sensitive prick and Arthur moans. Merlin slowly becomes boneless around Arthur, settling into the sheets, his breath evening out. Just as he is on the brink of sleep, Arthur feels his cock hardening and he shifts his hips experimentally, letting himself drag out of Merlin’s body and enjoying the friction until his erection has returned in full force. Merlin makes a little noise of encouragement in his throat and Arthur rolls onto his back, keeping Merlin pressed, back to chest on top of him. He pushes Merlin up until he’s sitting backwards on Arthur’s length, his back arching sleepily. He looks back at Arthur over his shoulder, his expression seductive and lazy and Arthur bounces him once on his prick to encourage him.

“Guess we’ll just have to go at my pace then.” Merlin’s voice is teasing as he rolls his hips slowly, angling himself so that Arthur continually presses against the spot inside of him that makes him see stars. The drag of it is slow and sweet and Merlin moans out Arthur’s name like he’s starring in a cheap porno.

The second time takes much longer. Merlin builds Arthur up to the edge and then stills his hips until Arthur comes back down. He twists himself around so that he’s facing Arthur, riding him with a renewed vigor, his own cock once again hard and leaking between himself and Arthur. Merlin arches his back, drives himself up and down onto Arthur while his moans grow louder until he’s coming all the way up Arthur’s chest. It wrings Arthur’s own orgasm out of him and he can feel his come leaking out of Merlin and sliding out onto his thighs.

Merlin slides off of Arthur and licks him clean until Arthur pulls him level with him and kisses him deeply. “That was really fucking hot.” He says, breathless against Merlin’s lips.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in this entire, ridiculous fucking castle your father calls a home, that doesn’t know exactly how you treat your best friend now.” Merlin quirks an eyebrow and Arthur pulls him down against his chest.

“I wish I cared.” Arthur sighs and Merlin lets out a small, sleepy laugh. “I probably will once I see Uther again though, won’t I?”

Merlin only nods against his chest and lets himself be lulled to sleep by the sound of Arthur’s heartbeat.

#

Leaving Arthur’s house is awkward, as Uther avoids eye contact by staring at a particularly fascinating spot on the ceiling when he says goodbye. Merlin makes a point of trying to hold the most amount of conversation with him while injecting himself bodily into his personal space. Uther is not amused and settles for finally clapping Merlin on the ear and threatening to tell Gaius just how little manners he really has.

“He has a way of making me feel like an eleven year old again.” Merlin muses and Arthur shakes his head.

“I don’t know why you needle at him like that, you know he always gets the last word.” Arthur shoves Merlin into the car.

“I like to think I keep the old man on his toes.”

Arthur grins, “You just like seeing if you can put him into cardiac arrest. He’s still not comfortable with my being gay, even if he does try to put on a good front.”

“Good?” Merlin snorts, “I’m surprised he hasn’t signed you into a marriage with a woman without your consent yet.”

Arthur drums his fingers against the steering wheel, “He’s tried I’m sure of it.”

A steady chorus of music plays momentarily over the radio before Merlin suggests, “Maybe we should send him a sex tape for his birthday. I’ll even let you bottom.”

Arthur nearly swerves off the road.

They meet up with Gwaine in the pub when they get back and Will, of all people, questions if Gwaine even has a place to live. Arthur tells them that they went out to Uther’s in the country and Gwaine asks them if they shagged all over Uther’s pristine mansion.

“Why would you even ask that?” Arthur glares at the same time that Merlin blurts out,

“We did!”

Gwaine snorts and Will frowns down into his beer and mutters, “Ew.”

“You’re just upset because you’re not getting laid.” Gwaine reminds him, leaning suggestively back in his booth.

“No.” Arthur grins and it’s pure evil, “He’s upset because the girl of his dreams is shagging Leon now.”

Gwaine practically lights up, “Leon’s getting some? With who.”

“Morgana.” Merlin tells him.

“Good for him! Leave it to Leon to get through to Morgana, cheeky bastard.” Gwaine knocks his glass against Will’s. Will only scowls harder.

“Can we talk business?” Mordred grits out, reminding them all that he’s been sitting there, squished between the wall and Gwaine’s body the entire time. “As much as I’m so excited for all of your sex lives.”

Gwaine kisses Mordred on the temple and gets a punch to the arm for his efforts, “Yes!” Merlin perks up. “I’ve been in touch with our suppliers and more than half of them are willing to ship to us before the insurance payouts, which puts us way ahead of schedule.”

“Suppliers, schedule, blah blah, I’m hearin’ a lot of shite coming out of your mouth but what I really want to know is when they’re going to fry up Cenred’s balls for what he did.” Will demands.

Arthur grinds his teeth together, “There’s a court process, Will, and paperwork and trials, I’m sure even you know that.”

Will stares at Arthur for a moment, “Yeah but it only takes like a week. I’ve watched trials on the telly enough to get it.”

Arthur looks to Merlin for help, “I’m not going to explain this anymore.”

“It’s fine.” He rubs Arthur’s knee underneath the table, “The point is we’re not going to see results for a while, so for now we just have to focus on the store and getting opened up again.”

“You should let me come in and paint the new store, I’ll even charge you half price.” Gwaine offers.

Mordred squints at him, “You have a job?”

Gwaine barks out a laugh and pulls Mordred into a tight hug, “God, I love this kid, where the fuck did you find him?”

“He blew through the gates of hell and burned a hole through the floor in our shop. We can get rid of him, he’s like an infestation.” Will explains.

“Wow, that’s a lot of big words for you, Will, did you buy yourself some new flashcards?” Mordred snaps and Gwaine practically pulls Mordred into his lap with the delight of it. Arthur doesn’t miss the way Mordred blushes and he fights a smile.

#

Gwen and Lance get married later that month in the most rushed yet elaborate wedding Merlin has ever seen pulled off in his life.

“You’re getting married when?!” Merlin almost chokes on his gum.

“The end of the month.” Gwen bounces around on her feet, her gigantic engagement ring sparkling in the artificial light.

“That’s in like” Merlin looks back at his calendar, “Three weeks, Gwen.”

“I know isn’t it great?” Gwen swoons, “We just couldn’t wait to get marries, we’re already talking about kids, can you believe it?”

Merlin laughs a little hysterically but throws his hands in the air, “Jesus fuck, no I can’t believe it, but it’s you and Lance so I guess in a way this all makes sense.”

Gwen throws her arms around Merlin’s neck and does an excited little dance around his kitchen. “We want you and Arthur to be in the wedding, Lance has sent me as his personal message bringer.” She says

“Messenger?” Merlin pours Gwen a glass of vodka and before he can pull out the orange juice to mix it with she’s emptied the glass.

“Yes that, exactly. I just really can’t wait for the honeymoon, you know? All of the romantic dinners and the-“

“Sex?” Merlin raises an eyebrow and Gwen blushes. “Oh, don’t act like you two haven’t already gone at it like rabbits.” He watches as Gwen turns her attention to digging her foot into the chipping linoleum on his kitchen floor. “Oh my god, you two haven’t done it yet?”

“Well no, I mean I’ve always thought it was more romantic to wait for marriage. I mean, we’ve only been together a year, it’s not like you and Arthur are you know -having sex” she says it so quietly and Merlin almost cries with his laughter.

“Are you kidding me, we do it all the time. Most days I can hardly get through the front door before he’s trying to get my pants off.” Merlin snorts and Gwen turns an even more vibrant shade of red. Merlin doesn’t want her to feel embarrassed, “Don’t feel bad about your personal choices just because of the way other people act. Me and Arthur are shameless heathens and you should definitely not aspire to be like us.”

Gwen laughs, “I think you two are sweet. I have never seen Arthur so in love, I didn’t know he was capable.”

“Most people can’t. Trust me when I tell you though, it is more than okay that you and Lance waited. It just means that you are going to have to have a ton of sex to make up for it. You’re going to do it once and then you’re never going to want to stop. You’ll be pregnant with triplets after your wedding night.”

“I don’t think that’s how pregnancy works.” Gwen says sarcastically and pours herself another glass of vodka.

“So what does your dad think of all of this?” Merlin takes a shot out of the bottle.

“Well he just loves Lance, he’s excited to have him in the family. And Elyan knows that Lance is an honorable man, and-“

“Oh Gwen, bless your sophisticated little heart. I know all about Lance’s honor. Now that you are getting married though you need to throw that shit to the wind. Focus on thoroughly debauching him, this is now your wifely duty.”

The front door swings open and closes and Merlin knows that Arthur is home. “the queue at the store was obscene, I could really use a good fuck.” Arthur yells before stumbling into Gwen. He doesn’t even have the good grace to look ashamed.

Merlin holds out his hand towards Arthur as if to say, “See, out of control with that dick of his.”

“Hi, Gwen, you look positively glowing, is that the radiance of engagement?” Arthur smirks.

“Just vodka.” Gwen holds up her cup and Arthur laughs. “We were just talking about my wedding actually.”

“Already?”

“It’s in three weeks.” Merlin says and watches Arthur’s expression become one of total confusion. “I’m briefing Gwen on her wedding night.”

“Oh well.” Arthur buries his head in the refrigerator and reemerges with a beer, “Merlin knows all about pleasing guys in the bedroom.”

“Arthur!” Merlin slings his house keys at Arthur, hitting him in the side and Arthur just laughs.

“I can’t wait until you two get married.” Gwen says and Arthur chokes on his beer.

“Er, it’s probably a bit early to be talking about that.” Merlin can’t bring himself to look Arthur in the eyes for fear that he might give away just how much the idea actually thrills him.

“Maybe give us another week or two?” Arthur says and Merlin’s glad for the teasing as it relieves the tension in the air. “Besides we’re going to go away to Australia, Merlin promised.”

Merlin just looks at him as if he’s grown an extra head. “You remember that?”

“I wasn’t drunk.” Arthur lifts his beer into the air as if to make a point.

“Either way, we’re not here to talk about Australia, or even us at all, we’re here to help Gwen plan a wedding overnight.”

Aarthur offers musical advice and Merlin apologizes for the fact that none of them have enough fashion sense combined to help her with the dress or even their own wardrobe. Gwen just moves with nervous energy around the flat and excepts whatever it is they’re offering up as ‘advice’.

#

Age 16:
Gwen was pretty and kind and Arthur wanted very badly to like her. She had come to his footy practices and stood by the fence with the other girls. She looked lovely in her uniform, something not a lot of people could brag about and one Friday night after a game she had let him kiss her behind the bleachers.

Her face had been apologetic and she looked near tears. “Gwen, what happened? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you, I just wanted to kiss you. I’m really really sorry.” Arthur feels like a creep for making a girl cry like that.

“It’s not that.” Gwen gives him a watery smile. “You’re a wonderful person Arthur, it’s just that I have a lot of feelings for someone else.”

The sense of rejection burns in Arthur’s gut. “So you weren’t coming to the games for me, were you?”

Gwen just shakes her head sadly, “I didn’t mean to lead you on, I’ve always enjoyed your company, that’s why I’ve always talked to you.”

“It’s okay.” Arthur tell her, and he means it. She must sense his honesty because she relaxes visibly. “Who is it? Maybe I could put in a good word for you?”

Gwen lets out a breathy laugh, “You don’t have to do that, Arthur. You’re being so sweet.”

He just shrugs, “I still want to be your friend though.” He tells her and she scrunches her nose with her adorable smile.

“Of course we’ll be friends.” She hugs him tightly and they both join the team out on the pitch again.

Arthur watches as she shuffles away towards Lancelot and blushes when he kisses the back of her knuckles. Arthur looks around and sees Merlin leaning on the fence, a headphone hanging out of his ear and a big dopey grin on his face. He trots over to him and flicks Merlin on the nose. “good game, I hear you did some really good things with your feet and everyone was talking about this kick thing you did for a goal.”

Arthur laughs, “You’re hopeless, why didn’t you come onto the pitch? I almost didn’t see you being all antisocial over here.”

“Everyone’s girlfriend is out there, I didn’t want to give the boys club any ideas about you.” Merlin purses his lips and Arthur cuffs him on the back of the head. “Did I see you talking to Gwen?”

“You did.” Arthur puts his hands on his hips, “I tried to kiss her, but she likes Lance.”

Merlin winces, “Tough, that. You want to go get wasted?”

“I might try to kiss you.” Arthur warns and Merlin laughs. He doesn’t have the heart to tell him that it’s really not a joke.

#

The new building is better than the original and Merlin feels bad for wishing that someone had tried to burn it down sooner. Gwaine decorates the entire interior with vibrant music murals and it takes everything but an act of god to stop him from painting dicks all over the place. Mordred is the first employee in the building after Merlin opens it for the first time.

“This place looks at least three percent better than it did before.” He remarks dryly and Merlin laughs. “Where’s Arthur?”

“Late. I’m sure he’s still sleeping.” Merlin runs his hands over the smooth new countertop in front of him.

Mordred throws his coat over the counter and glances around the building. “Doesn’t he live with you now?”

“He still has his own place.” Merlin blushes, giving it away that Arthur definitely did spend the night last night.

The bell rings when the door opens -no longer la cucaracha- and they’re both surprised that it isn’t one of their coworkers, but instead Morgana. “Hello, my lovely boys. Is your charity case in yet?” She kisses Merlin on the cheek.

“Still in a sex coma in Merlin’s bed.” Mordred answers for her and she wrinkles her nose.

“I’m happy you’re getting some, but there will always be a part of me that is slightly offended that it’s with my brother.” Morgana explains. “Listen though, I just caught wind that Cenred may be linked to an even larger case of a drug ring in London, he’s looking at quite the sentencing.”

Merlin leans forward on his elbows, “Music to my ears.”

“And very large ears indeed.” Will shouts when he stumbles into the building, a half asleep Arthur behind him. “Morgana you look beautiful today, are you still boffing around with that soft therapist? Ready for a real man yet?”

Morgana groans loudly and shoves Will to the side, “Good morning Arty-pants, you look positively dead to the world.”

“And still altogether like he should be modeling for Armani.” Will adds

“Dad’s having a family dinner next weekend, he wanted me to pass on the invitation to you.” Morgana ruffles Arthur’s already messy hair.

“What family? You mean me and you?” He bats Morgana’s hand away.

“And all of the servants. Oh, and Merlin of course.” Morgana adds flippantly.

“I’m family?” Merlin asks quietly

Morgana give him an adoring look, “Oh, darling you’ve been family since you tried to flush Uther’s diamond encrusted pocket watch down the toilet.”

Merlin smiles, “I was six.”

“Exactly” Morgana pulls Merlin into a tight hug. “And Mordred, Gwaine is on his way over here, he wants to talk to you.” She says vaguely before she vanishes out the door.

Everyone turns their attention towards Mordred who looks as much at a loss as everyone else. “What sort of dodgy business do you have with Gwaine?” Will finally asks.

Mordred looks like a deer in the headlights, “None, I haven’t talked to Gwaine since the pub. Do you think he’s mad at me?”

Arthur nearly chokes at Mordred’s uneasiness and Merlin lets out a nervous laugh, “I doubt that.” He says quickly.

Mordred is on edge until Gwaine saunters in, looking as carefree as ever, and even then Mordred is jumpy around him. “This place looks amazing, whoever did these paintings should be knighted.” Gwaine announces.

“You’re not as funny as you think you are.” Will reminds him and Gwaine just shrugs as if it’s probably true. Mordred watches him openly and Merlin leans forward as if expecting Gwaine to punch him in the face, or unleash hell.

“So we just saw Morgana.” Merlin brings up idly.

Gwaine just grins and leans back casually on the counter, “Yeah, I talked to her on my way over here.”

And just like that, they’re back to an uneasy anticipation. “So,” Arthur grips the counter tightly.

Gwaine just tosses his head back and laughs loudly, “What has gotten into you guys? Do I have something on my face? Did you find that dick I hid in the mural?”

“What?!” Merlin looks around frantically.

“I’m just teasing you, mate.” Gwaine says in a way that suggests that he’s not actually teasing at all. “Listen though, I need to borrow one of your employees for a moment if that’s alright?” He throws his arm around Mordred’s shoulder and pulls him tightly against him. No one misses the way Mordred tenses up.

Merlin looks to Mordred, trying to read his answer in his expression. “Er, that’s fine, just try not to keep him too long.”

Gwaine drags Mordred away to the backroom and once the door is closed behind them, Will flips the sign to read “Closed” and they all crowd around the thick wooden back door.

“We’ll never hear anything through this.” Will complains, a little too loudly.

“Not with you yelling like that.” Arthur hisses, shoving Will over. There’s some muffled sounds that are possibly talking, but there really isn’t even a way to identify which voice is whose.

They scatter like roaches when they hear footsteps approaching the door and Gwaine tugs at Arthur’s hair as he passes him on the way out, shouting out a cheerful, “Have a good day, boys.”

They turn on Mordred like a pack of rabid dogs. “What the fuck did he say? Why are you standing there with that stupid ass smile on your face?” Will practically hurls himself on top of Mordred.

Mordred’s face flickers back into something like annoyance upon seeing Will, but quickly transforms back into a kinder look. “Shouldn’t you all know? You were listening at the door after all.”

“No,” Arthur rounds on him, “We were trying to listen at the door, but we didn’t hear anything.”

Mordred grins down at his feet, “He was asking me out.”

“Like on a date?” Merlin beams at him and Mordred nods. “That’s brilliant!” Merlin throws his arms around Mordred’s neck.

Arthur almost feels bad for Mordred because he knows better than anyone just how sel imposing their group of friends can be about relationships. “I didn’t even know you two talked!” Will’s voice breaks through his train of thought.

“I mean, we talked a little after the pub. He told me I was funny.” Mordred is acting like a school girl with a crush on the most popular boy. It’s like watching aliens land on their sidewalk.

Their opening day is a success, and they have twice as many people come through than they ever had before. Will is wired with the excitement of catching new people stealing things and Merlin catches Mordred texting Gwaine three times before he finally hides his phone in a drawer in his office. Arthur tries to convince Merlin to have sex only five times during the work day. In public.

Merlin kicks his new office chair lightly so that it spins in a neat circle, not tilting to the side like the old one did and smiles. For the first time in the longest time, he doesn’t feel like throwing himself into traffic and it makes him laugh. This time, everything is perfect.

#

Arthur dresses Merlin up for dinner at Uther’s, which means that Merlin is the most uncomfortable he’s ever felt. “I look dumb. Do I look dumb?” he straightens his tie and Arthur bats his hand away as he knock on the door.

“You always look dumb.” He tells him.

Morgana answers the door, her dress cut just a little too short and Arthur smirks. He knows she did it to make Uther uncomfortable. “Oh look, the rest of our massive family.” She says snidely and lets them in.

“Can I be the creepy uncle?” Merlin pleads and Morgana gives him a thumbs up as they follow her into the dining room.

Uther stands and greets Arthur and Merlin. “Gentleman, it’s nice seeing you again.”

“When your sons not trying to proposition me in the hallway?” Merlin collapses into a chair and Morgana looks at him in shock while Uther just lets out a long suffering sigh and nods his head.

“Yes, well, despite my efforts, Arthur hasn’t always been the best with tact.”

Arthur takes a large sip from his glass of wine and scowls. “Let’s not sit here and talk about my manners all day.”

“You’re right. I invited you out because in my old age I’ve found myself -well, lonely. I realize that I need my family around me. I might not have been the most intuitive father, but I loved both of you very much, and still do. You too Merlin, I’ve always considered you family, since the first day Hunith dropped you off to ruin my brand new carpet.” Merlin beams at him and Uther continues, “So, forgive me if this is a bit uncomfortable for you all, but I would like to rekindle some sort of relationship with my children.”

Morgana and Arthur exchange guilty look before Morgana picks at the table cloth with one of her perfectly manicured nails and says, “You weren’t the worst father, and you always provided for us. I’m always open for a relationship.”

Arthur nods his head quickly, “You know that I love you, dad.”

“You’ve been the only father in my life.” Merlin adds and Uther looks the closest to shedding real tears since the time his mother passed away.

“You should come see the new store, it’s open now.” Arthur tells Uther. “Don’t wear anything nice though, Will’s still around and he’ll only ruin it by default.”

Merlin tsks at Arthur, “That’s not true, we make him shower daily, or he’s not allowed to come into work.”

Uther looks to be in pain at the mention of Will’s name. “I’ll come by on Tuesday after I stop by the bank.”

“That’s perfect.” Merlin chimes in.

“So,” Uther folds his hands neatly in front of him on the table, “How are you two doing in your relationship?”

Morgana tries to hide a poorly concealed laugh behind her napkin and play it off as a cough. “Actually, really really good.” Arthur tells him and kicks out at Morgana underneath the table. “We were just talking about finding a place together.”

“I wish you would move out of the city, it’s so loud and busy.” Uther tells them, “And what about you, Morgana, anything new in your life?”

Morgana chews absently at a carrot before nodding her head, “Yes actually, I’ve starting seeing someone myself. Surely you remember Leon?”

“The awful football player?” Uther asks and Arthur snickers.

“Yes that one. Well he’s a psychologist now. He runs his own practice and he’s very well renowned around London.”

“Sounds fancy.” Merlin teases and Morgana flicks a piece of cheese at him.

“Incredibly fancy. He even owns his own flower box.” Morgana adds and it makes Merlin and Arthur laugh harder. Morgana seems pleased with herself at her joking and Uther twirls his fork against his plate.

“As long as your happy. Leon was a very nice kid.”

They all stare at this new Uther they had never expected. When dinner wraps up they play a game of spades in the living room and they even get Uther on it, even if he’s terrible at the game. They all hug him goodbye, even Merlin, and promise to do this again next weekend. And the weekend after that. And that is how Uther Pendragon finds himself in a manor full of the kids he watched grow up every weekend.

The drive home is quiet and Merlin is happily buzzed as Arthur sings along to and Adam and the Ants song.

“What are you smiling about?” Arthur asks him.

Merlin puts his feet up on the dashboard, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Arthur bites at his lower lip, “Is that why you’re smiling?”

“Of course, because you make me happy.” Merlin kisses Arthur hastily on the cheek, “And also because you’re dads a riot and losing it a little in his years.”

Arthur barks out a laugh, “Yeah, he really is. Better late than never to try and be a father though, right?”

“Yeah definitely.” Merlin agrees.

When they get home Merlin barely get his shirt over his head before he’s collapsing into bed with a giant yawn, “I feel like I could sleep for days.” He tells Arthur.

Arthur just cracks his toes against the carpet and curls himself around Merlin. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Hmm?” Merlin hums against his chest.

“Well, it’ll either be a question or a confession, depending on your answer. When we got really drunk at Gwaine’s party that one night, we came back to your place and I stayed the night. Do you know which night I’m talking about?”

Merlin leans up on his elbows, “Yeah, the one after the show, when Cenred showed up the next morning.”

“That’s the one.” Arthur runs his fingers through Merlin’s hair, “Well that night you were really drunk and you kissed me. You told me you didn’t remember getting home in the morning though. Did you ever remember that?”

Merlin blushes and Arthur can tell even in the dark. He mumbles something against Arthur’s chest and Arthur flips him over, “What was that?” he asks Merlin.

Merlin takes a deep breath and quickly mutters out, “I may not have been that drunk.”

“You,” Arthur splutters, “You mean you knew what you were doing?”

“I wanted to kiss you okay!?” Merlin hides his face behind his hands, “I didn’t think I would be able to any other way.”

Arthur laughs and then kisses Merlin slowly and deeply, lets his tongue play against Merlin’s. He grinds down against Merlin until he can feel him pressing hard against his thigh. Then he rolls off and lets out a great yawn. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

He can hear Merlin panting in the dark next to him and let out a small whimper, “But, Arthur.”

“Now you know how it feels.” Arthur smiles to himself and falls asleep listening to Merlin try to adjust himself next to him. He’ll make it up to him in the morning, but for now, this is what he needs.

 

 

EPILOGUE

“Hey are you Merlin?” The boy can’t be older than five.

“I am.” He can’t help the smile when the boy flashes his gapped tooth grin at him.

“I have something for you, it’s very important.” He starts to dig through the bag on his back and puts a cassette case on the counter.

Merlin lets out a surprised laugh and picks up the case. “Did a blond man give this to you?”

The little boy nods happily, “Are you going to open in?”

Inside, there is a tape-sized box and Merlin plucks out the insert. The boy bounces on his feet so Merlin reads it out loud. “I love the nights, flying over these city lights, but I love you most of all. Happy two year anniversary, please say -yes.” Merlin’s voice catches on the last word and he feels his heart hammering loudly in this chest. He pulls the lid off of the box and lets the gold ring fall out into his palm. Merlin is vaguely aware of Will looming behind him, fidgeting worse than the kid, and Mordred watching him through the gap in the New Release section. His hands are shaking when he feels a pair of arms wrap themselves around his waist.

“What should I take your silence as?” Arthur asks and Merlin shoves the ring into the palm of Arthur’s hand. Arthur’s face falls completely and Merlin lets out a shaky laugh.

“I need help putting it on.” He explains, holding up his trembling fingers. Arthur lights up instantly and slides the ring onto Merlin.

“You know,” Mordred folds his arms over his chest, “Me and Will can close up the shop tonight if you guys need to get out of here.”

Merlin just nods his head and lets Arthur drag him out of the shop by his wrist. “Who was that kid?”

“Leon’s nephew. Visiting for a few weeks from Scotland.” Arthur barely makes it around the corner before he’s shoving Merlin up against the wall and capturing him in a bruising kiss.

“Arthur.” Merlin gasps out as Arthur shoves his hands up underneath Merlin’s sweater, “Let’s go home.” He manages to push Arthur off of him and laces their fingers together.

Arthur is jumpy and nervous the entire walk back to their home and Merlin watches him in amusement. “What’s got you so on edge? I already said yes.” Merlin reminds him.

Arthur lets out a shaky laugh and pulls Merlin against him tightly, “I guess I’m still in shock is all.”

“This is hardly a new relationship. I’ve loved you for a long time now, you should never have doubted that I would want to be with you.” Merlin kisses Arthur gently, twisting his new ring around his finger fondly. “This is going to be really good.” He says, and Arthur couldn’t agree more.

“So you’re going to be taking my last name, right?” Merlin asks him in a tone that suggests he’s joking but Arthur just steals another kiss off of his lips and tells him,

“Actually, I was thinking that I would.”

#

Age 6:

“I hate that watch, it’s so stupid and ugly.” Arthur scowls as he and Merlin lay on his living room floor. Uther’s new girlfriend Catrina got him the pocket watch, Merlin had seen her give it to him for his birthday. There’s nothing particularly offensive about the watch, it’s fine enough, but it just makes Arthur so angry.

“Maybe she put a curse on hit.” Merlin suggests, jumping up onto his spindly legs.

Arthur laughs but then nods seriously. “You can be my own curse finder. You can test out all of the things that Catrina brings into the house and you can tell me which things are cursed.”

“I think it’s all of them.” Merlin says.

Arthur grins, then pounces on Merlin, tackling him into the carpet with a delighted shriek. Merlin gives him a great, toothless smile. “Happy birthday, Arthur.” Merlin tells him when the old grandfather clock strikes midnight. He’s officially seven.

The next morning Arthur wakes up to the sound of Catrina awful screeching voice. He ventures into the hallway to see Morgana standing there, her hair in tangles. “What happened?” He asks her and Morgana just laughs.

“Merlin threw that watch Catrina bought dad into the toilet. She’s so angry.”

Arthur watches as Uther marches a guilty looking Merlin out of the bathroom. When he passes Arthur he lets out a blinding smile and Arthur doubles over in a fit of giggles. “He defeated the curse.” Arthur says and Morgana just rolls her eyes at him and runs down the hall to see if she can catch any more drama.

Uther calls Hunith and even Arthur can sense the reluctance in his voice when he tells Merlin’s mum what he did. When Hunith is on her way over Uther watches his son wrap his arms around Merlin’s skinny little frame and whisper ‘thank you’ in what he probably thinks is a quiet tone. Arthur never does see his father explain to Hunith that Merlin did it for Arthur and that he didn’t think the boy should be punished, but Uther does see the way his son becomes irreversibly smitten with Merlin.

End.