corilannam: (Merlin - pendragon)
[personal profile] corilannam
Continued from Chapter 2

"All right. This is the very last item of clothing that I own that isn't currently in Wales. How does it look?" Arthur turned toward his housemate, holding his arms out to the sides expectantly.

Gwaine lounged in a stiff-backed chair, looking as comfy as though he were on the couch in their flat. "Oh, fuck no. You look like the Little Dutch Boy right before he plugged the dike."

Arthur gritted his teeth. "Not exactly the impression I'm going for. Okay, that's it. I have no more clothing. It is too late to have anything made. It is too late to even run out to the high street and buy something. What the hell am I supposed to wear?"

"This one." Gwaine reached over and snagged a blue shirt that had been flung over the arm of the chair next to him. "You looked the best in this one."

He caught the shirt and frowned down at it. "This was the first thing I tried on."

"Yep. Great instincts. I should have known you were gay from the start. Oh, wait, I did."

Three hours wasted. He had made George send for his old uni clothes, still in storage at Clarence House. "You said I looked like a Smurf."

"Oh, I was lying. Just wanted to give you something to do for a few hours so you wouldn't get nerv—augh!"

Arthur had the legs of the nearest pair of jeans (the fourteenth pair he had tried, the ones Gwaine said made him look like an American hoodlum) wrapped around Gwaine's neck. "I'll give you something to do, you idiotic—"


They both froze and turned their heads to see George standing in the doorway, eyeing them with his normal placid disapproval. Arthur whipped the jeans from Gwaine's throat and hurriedly straightened up. "Yes, George?"

"Sir, I regret to inform you that the car is waiting. Do you need help dressing? The late King's valet has been dismissed, but I'm sure I could—"

"Bugger that." Arthur stripped off his rugby shirt and pulled on the blue shirt. Gwaine held out a pair of trousers and Arthur clambered into them without question. "Damn, my hair is a mess. I need to—"

"Just leave it." Gwaine grabbed his wrists and pulled them away from his head. "Trust me, just leave it. Come on, lover boy, let's get you to your first date."

Gwaine switched his grip to the back of Arthur's neck and steered him out the door. As they walked down the stairs, Arthur felt the nerves starting to creep back and grudgingly (silently) admitted that Gwaine had been right. "You know, I was actually kind of surprised that Lancelot said yes."

"You and me both. Not that I didn't know he liked you well enough. Still, it surprised me more that he was the one you asked. To be honest, I thought you had more of a fancy for a Welsh school teacher of our acquaintance."

Arthur felt strangely reluctant to answer him. What he had begun feeling for Merlin, strange and impossible, seemed too private and perhaps a little humiliating. "It wouldn't matter if I did. You know he wouldn't be interested."

"Oh, bah. Don't take all that republican flag waving of his to heart. He's got just as attached to you as you are to him."

"Regardless: he's straight."

"Really? I wouldn't have thought that. Did he tell you that?"

"Not in so many words, but I figured it out fast enough when he started talking about his ex-girlfriend."

"Yeah? Did you talk about yours, too?" Gwaine grinned and gave Arthur's shoulders a squeeze as they emerged under the portico where the car was waiting. "Have a good time, Your Majesty. Remember, details only if they're profoundly embarrassing or something I can use to horrify Leon."


Arthur would have preferred to drive himself, just as he would have preferred to go somewhere less intimidating than the Sans Merci, but the owners had been accommodating in shutting down the restaurant for the royal party. Before he met Merlin, he would not have thought twice about it, but now taking up an entire restaurant for himself discomfited him.

Lancelot was already waiting at the table. He smiled when he saw Arthur and started to stand up, but then hesitated as if unsure what to do.

Arthur felt the same way. When he went out with Mithian in public, he kissed her cheek and held her chair for her. He had no idea if that would be appropriate with Lancelot, but he suspected not.

In the end, Lancelot settled awkwardly back in his chair and Arthur did the same. They grinned at each other ruefully.

"How are you?" Arthur asked. "Did you find the place all right?"

"Yes, thanks. There was a bit of a harrowing moment at King's Cross when I got trapped behind a woman with a double-wide pram, but I persevered."

Arthur chuckled politely while two possible responses tripped over his tongue. He knew how to make polite public conversation and he knew how to joke with his friends. He had no idea what this was.

"I suppose it shows that I haven't done this very much." Arthur motioned for wine and the menus; that, at least, he knew how to do. "At least, not like this."

"Neither have I, actually." Lancelot nodded to the silent shadow of a server, though she automatically offered the bottle to Arthur. "But we already know each other, so surely we can find something to talk about, yes?"

Arthur seized the opening. "Yes, tell me how things are back at Avalon. I feel completely out of touch."

Lancelot brightened and launched into stories of all the events Arthur had missed at Avalon, every other one of which seemed to involve Merlin getting himself into trouble. Those were Arthur's favourites.

"I think I'm going to have to recreate the position of court jester, just for him," Arthur remarked after the tale of Merlin's latest encounter with Vivian, involving a pair of Chanel sunglasses and what sounded like a great deal of pigeon shit.

"I'd enjoy that, but I'm afraid he'd be wasted there." Lancelot chuckled and swirled his third glass of wine around his glass. "He really has been a great benefit to the project. After all, he understands what the school needs better than any of us, and he has a keen mind for sustainability."

Arthur put his own glass down with a laugh and took another bite of the excellent beef. The wine spread warmth through his belly and legs, relaxing him all the more because the food portions were so very small. "Just don't tell him that. I'm fairly sure he's already gunning for my job."

"Which one?" Lancelot retorted and they both laughed before Lancelot leaned back and sighed. "I have to admit, if I'd had time to think about it, I would have expected you to seek out his company before mine."

"Am I really the only person who knew that Merlin was straight?" That was an internal thought, but the wine gave it voice. "I thought I had terrible gaydar, but perhaps I was underestimating myself."

An odd tension came over Lancelot, though he said nothing as he focused on his food with an intensity that seemed too much even for the superb scallops.

"I'm sorry, that was rude of me." Arthur felt a sudden, desperate certainty that he was fucking this up. "And I certainly didn't mean to imply that I would rather be here with him than you."

Not that Merlin would ever set foot in a place like this. He would probably burst into flames.

"No, of course." Lancelot let out a short sigh and prodded a scallop with his fork. "Though perhaps it would be better if you were."

Something was wrong. Lancelot seemed nervous and still avoided Arthur's eyes. "I'm sorry, I never asked. Are you even out?"

Lancelot tensed even more. "Well," he said, more hesitant that Arthur had ever seen him or even suspected possible. "That's something that...."

Alarm bells were blaring in Arthur's head now, underscored by a creeping dread when Lancelot did not finish his sentence. "Lancelot." He tried to find an appropriately delicate way to phrase it, and failed. "Are you even gay?"

Lancelot finally met his gaze, looking up with a rueful smile and shaking his head.

"Bi?" Arthur grasped at straws, though his heart was already sinking into his stomach. "There's nothing wrong with being bi. I don't have any prejudices about that."

Lancelot bit his lip, then finally shook his head again.

Arthur realized he had been leaning forward and fell back in his chair with a thump. "I don't understand." He felt stupid and humiliated but—how could it not have been clear that he was asking Lancelot on a date? A sudden horror rushed over him. "Wait, please tell me you didn't say yes because of work. Or because—because of who I am?"

"No!" Lancelot straightened up, looking at him directly now. With a slight relief, Arthur found he could not doubt the sincerity of that. "I wanted to say yes. You were so courageous, and I was so flattered that you asked me."

"I appreciate that." Arthur tilted his head back and closed his eyes so he would not have to look at Lancelot's all-too-sincere face anymore. "But that's a not a very good reason to date someone."

"I know. I knew I should tell you, but it didn't seem like a bad thing to go to dinner. And Gwen thought it was a lovely idea."

"Who's—oh, God, Gwen is your girlfriend, isn't she?"

"My fiancée, actually. She said you looked so lonely and sad, it would be good for you to have company. And Gwaine thought it might be nice for your first date to be a friend. Someone safe."

"Oh my God. This is a pity date." Arthur buried his face in his hands because he could not bear to look at Lancelot again. "The King of Great Britain is on a pity date."

"No, Arthur, it's not—"

"I was voted the World's Most Eligible Bachelor six times—six times!—and all I could get was a pity date."

"Arthur, please don't think—"

"When were you going to tell me, Lancelot? On the second date? The third? When I tried to kiss you good night? What would your Gwen think of that?"

Lancelot stopped answering. When Arthur finally uncovered his face, Lancelot was staring down at the table, looking guilty and miserable. Arthur's embarrassment turned to unwelcome shame.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "You're a good friend, Lance. I'm still glad for the chance to get to talk to you more. Even if you are straight."

Relief overcame his humiliation when Lancelot looked up and smiled broadly, radiating a relief even greater than Arthur felt. "I'm glad, too. I do like you, Arthur, very much, and it would be nice to know you outside of our jobs, too."

"Good. Obviously that's necessary, since I didn't even know you had a fiancée." Arthur liked to think he was better than that with people; he could only plead the distraction of the project and Merlin. "So tell me all about your Gwen."

Lancelot beamed and launched into a reverent description of his bride to be and how they had met. Arthur actually found himself enjoying it, despite the burn of embarrassment in his gut that overlaid the fear that he would never find someone who felt something so powerful for him.

It was Monday, again, in that unfair way that Mondays had. It was also raining, because it was Wales and the Welsh sky always knew when it was Monday.

Merlin clutched his coffee mug to his chest, drew himself tighter in under the umbrella, and tried to trudge a little faster. He heard the sound of a car behind him and braced himself to get splashed.

"Really, Merlin. I am commanding you to buy a sensible pair of galoshes. You're going to squelch all day and distract everyone."

He was grinning before he even lifted his head to see what snotty git was taunting him from the road. "Oh, it's you again. Didn't expect to see you around these parts again."

"You mean, aside from the three text messages I sent you telling you I'd be back today? Or the email Gwaine sent to everyone? Or the second email Lancelot sent to everyone? Or, I don't know, the announcement I made on the BBC?"

"Well." Merlin sauntered forward. His grin was starting to hurt. "You're the King now, and kings are notoriously fickle."

Arthur rolled his eyes and jerked his head toward the passenger seat. "Just get in."

Merlin gave a cheerful wave to the two protection officers who had stopped their car a discreet distance behind Arthur's car. He splashed around to the passenger side, juggling his coffee between his arms and his chest as he tried to close the umbrella. With a bit of contortion he managed to get his arse into the seat and pulled the rest of him in after. "Thanks." The coffee teetered somewhere between his elbow and his knee. "It's really bucketing—oh, shit."

"What—Merlin!" Arthur started yanking Merlin's arms and legs aside as though trying to pull him away from the coffee now splattered all over Merlin and the dashboard.

"Don't worry, it's not that hot. I'm fine. Ow!"

"Sod it all, it's everywhere. Merlin, you oaf, do you have the slightest idea what kind of car this is?"

"A black one?" Merlin gave him an incredulous scowl. "If you were interested, my delicate porcelain skin is unharmed."

"I'm sincerely interested in your skin, Merlin, I promise, but I'm much more interested in the coffee currently soaking into my upholstery." Arthur draped over him now, delving down between Merlin's legs to daub at the drips and splotches with—was that an actual handkerchief?

Between the sudden presence of Arthur in his personal space and Arthur's declared interest in Merlin's skin, Merlin found it hard to worry about a little spilled coffee. "I'll help you get it up when we get to school. Everything in here is black or brown anyway."

"The smell will be in here for weeks. Why don't you drink tea like a proper person?" Arthur kept up his mopping, though at this point, Merlin was sure that he was only smearing the coffee around.

"Look, I didn't want to say anything, but this looks like it's a pretty old car and it's kind of weird looking. I mean, it doesn't even have a back seat. Maybe this is a sign that you should consider trading it in for a newer model. Surely you can afford something better?"

Arthur stopped his mopping and turned his head sideways to face Merlin. He was a little below him and very near; his eyes up close looked wide and blue and rather mad. "Merlin. This is a 1969 Jaguar E-Type. It is the best car ever made, not just in Britain, but anywhere. There is no such thing as something better."

Merlin stared back at him. He had been afraid Arthur was going to say something like that. "I think we have some Febreze in the staff room?"

Arthur closed his eyes and slowly straightened up, moving back into his own seat. Then he opened his eyes enough to give Merlin a sidelong smile. "You're fortunate that I am moderately happy to see you. Is that my umbrella, by the way?"

He looked down: the umbrella soaking through his trouser leg had barely registered after the coffee. "Yes."

"Did you not get a good enough offer for it?"

The bids had gone up to a staggering sum, actually, but an hour before the auction was due to end, Merlin had taken it down, unable to think of parting with it.

"Nah, nobody wanted a used umbrella." He extended it to Arthur. "You want it back?"

Arthur looked down: not at the umbrella, but at his lap where, Merlin belatedly realized, the umbrella was dripping a mixture of cold rainwater and lukewarm coffee onto his thigh. When he looked up and met Merlin's eyes again, Merlin merely nodded and withdrew the umbrella back to his own lap.

With a sigh, Arthur put the car in gear and started back down the wet road. "On the way home, Merlin, we are working on your car manners. It's like training a puppy, I swear to God."

Merlin turned his head to look out the window and hide his smile.

All day he had the urge to talk to Merlin, though he was never sure what he wanted to talk about or why. Thankfully, Merlin stuck close to him all day, always smiling. They worked hard all day, even through lunch; Arthur had not felt so relaxed since the night an invisible crown had settled on his head.

"We should be ready for the wrecking ball by the weekend, right on schedule," he said with relish when they were back in the tiny office at the end of the day.

Merlin winced. "Are you sure that's necessary? Can't you just...add on?"

"We're not remodeling your mother's kitchen, Merlin. This is a full-scale revolution."

"A revolution, eh? And how well do those generally work out for you people?"

"You have to clear out the old before you can build the new," he answered, and just like that, he remembered his father. The grief hit him in the stomach, doubling him over with a long wheeze. It physically hurt, this mad notion that he would never see his father again.

He finally managed to draw in a deeper breath and opened his eyes. The world wavered around him until he realized that he was not bent over after all. He had not even cried out, he thought, since Merlin was looking him only with mild curiosity, not concern.

"All right, Arthur?"

"Yeah. Get your things and we can leave." Arthur slung his own bag around his shoulders and headed out the door. "Don't forget the People's Umbrella. It's still raining."

The car still reeked of coffee when they got in. Arthur said nothing; Merlin carefully did not look at him.

They stayed quiet as they pulled away from the school. After about a minute, Merlin shifted next to him and turned his head toward Arthur. "I realized that I never got the chance to actually tell you that I'm sorry about your father."

Arthur braced himself for the pain to return, but instead, the words salved a little of the remaining soreness. "Thank you. I wish you could have met him."

Merlin gave a small snort. "Somehow, I don't think that would have gone very well."

"Oh, I know. That's exactly why I wish I could have seen it."

"I would have been polite! He was your father, after all."

"You're barely polite to me." The turn-off for Merlin's house approached on the left, but Merlin was facing him, prickling with indignant humour.

Arthur pressed the accelerator and kept going as Merlin protested. "I'm not polite to you because you're just a king. But I'm always polite to people's dads. Hey, you missed the turn. That was my driveway."

"Well, you just kept talking, so I didn't want to interrupt you. See, that's how polite I am." He smiled, making it as smug as he knew how, which he had been assured was a considerable amount.

"You'll have to circle around by the post office. It's going to be really out of your way now." Merlin slouched down into his seat, and when Arthur looked at him out of the corner of his eye, did not look all that unhappy about it.

Good. Arthur liked spending time with Merlin, even if he was unavailable to him in all the ways Arthur would have liked. If the disaster with Lancelot had taught him anything, it was to not turn up his nose at real friendship in hell-bent pursuit of imaginary romance. And Merlin eased the hollowness still lingering in his chest.

The memory of his foolish date made him huff a little with laughter. He had not yet told Merlin about it, and he could just imagine how much Merlin was going to enjoy every humiliating second.

"What?" Merlin turned to look at him.

"You never did ask how my date with Lancelot went."

Merlin made some kind of face, though Arthur could not take his eyes off the road long enough to try to interpret it. He really hoped Merlin was not the sort of straight person who found even the mention of gay relationships distasteful.

"I was hoping you made a total fool out of yourself, but it seemed kind of mean to say it since I actually like Lance," Merlin said and Arthur relaxed.

"As it happens, I fulfilled your every wild hope and dream on that count." Arthur grinned, the sting of his embarrassment fading under the anticipation of telling Merlin about it. "And don't worry, Lancelot is just fine."

Merlin sat up straight and turned his whole upper body toward Arthur. "Well, in that case, do go on."

By that time, Arthur had circled around the village centre and was passing the school again. "You'll have to wait until tomorrow, I'm afraid. Here's your house coming up."

"Oh, no, you're not getting away that easily. Just park the car right there next to my bike. I'll make us some tea."

Merlin's home was a cottage, an incredibly small cottage that bore little resemblance to the summer cottages Arthur had known growing up. "One crack about hobbit holes, and you're out the door," Merlin informed him as he dumped his knapsack and keys on the kitchen table.

Arthur smiled as he left his belongings next to Merlin's and started to walk around. "It looks charming."

"I realize that's a polite way of saying ‘small,' but thank you. My mother did most of the decorating, as you probably guessed."

"Our place is a little bigger," Arthur admitted. "But then there's two of us, and you do not want to be in close quarters with Gwaine when the moon is full."

Merlin snorted and started to clatter around the tiny kitchen as he put the kettle on. Arthur kept wandering.

Being in Merlin's home felt terribly intimate. He perused the bookshelves, which were filled with more novels than Arthur had probably read in his life. The walls stood empty except for a landscape undoubtedly of Mrs. Emrys's choosing and a small group of framed photos. There was a beaming Merlin with various groups of children; with an older woman who must have been his mother; a young man who could only be the notorious Will; and an older man Arthur could not place from any of Merlin's stories.

"Is this your father?" he called.

Merlin looked over his shoulder at the sink. "Yeah. He passed away a few years ago."

"I'm sorry. That's very young. May I ask how he died?"

"Eaten by a komodo dragon, or at least that's our best guess. They never did find his body."

Arthur opened his mouth, but all his public relations experience could not come up with a suitable reply for that. Merlin might be taking the piss just to see what Arthur would do, but one could not politely cast doubt on that sort of statement.

"Well," he finally said. "I suppose we both have rather dramatic family histories, then."

Merlin set the teapot on the table, with two mugs and a package of digestives—chocolate covered, Arthur was pleased to see. "Come on, sit. Don't think you're going to distract me. I want to hear all about you making a fool of yourself."

They drank tea and ate biscuits, and Arthur told the tale of Lancelot and the Counterproductive Gay Date. He expected Merlin to be doubled over laughing by the time he got to the revelation of Lancelot's heterosexual engagement, but Merlin set his mug down much harder than necessary and frowned.

"I'm sorry, but I think that's horrible. I know he was probably startled when you asked him, but he should have told you the truth afterwards, before you went out."

Arthur paused with his biscuit halfway to his mouth. "Well, perhaps, but he meant well. Come on, Merlin, you must see the humour better than anyone. A pity date—me! Do you know how many times I've been named most eligible bachelor in the world?"

"Six. Gwaine told me." Merlin got up and took the packet of biscuits back to the cupboard, though Arthur had been reaching for another one. "I just don't think it was right for him to pretend to be something he's not."

"What, like I pretended to be straight all these years?" Arthur felt compelled to acknowledge the double standard, even though Merlin's indignation on his behalf gave him a purring rush of pleasure.

For some reason, Merlin froze and looked stricken at that. "Different thing," he insisted. "There are reasons for someone to pretend to be straight when they have to live a certain kind of life. We can't all just come out on the BBC, you know."

Arthur started to retort, but stopped—at first because he had got confused whether he was defending Lancelot or himself. And then, because the word "we" had jammed into the gearbox of his brain. "When you say 'we,'" he started carefully, so carefully, "are you speaking with a general humanist empathy, or on behalf of a hypothetical group of closeted queer persons which includes yourself?"

Merlin just stared at him, mouth gaping open and eyes panicked like Arthur's headlamps had startled him in the midst of crossing the roadway. That was an answer by itself, one that made Arthur's heart clench.

"Merlin, are you gay?"

Slowly, Merlin shook his head.

"Are you bisexual?"

Merlin swallowed. Arthur watched the movement of his throat, the rapid flutter of his eyelids. Then he nodded.

Arthur sat back in his chair. He did not remember leaning forward. Once again, he felt like he had in front of the camera, like he was about to leap off a cliff with only a vague idea of what waited below.

"Had I known that," he said, "I would never have asked Lancelot in the first place."

They looked at each other, the sound of their breathing abnormally loud in the silence. Then Merlin crossed the kitchen in three steps, bent over Arthur's chair, and kissed him.

A shock of bliss jolted through him at the touch of Merlin's lips. He reached up to grip Merlin's shoulders, hands awkward and clumsy. Arthur could count the number of times he had been kissed in his life on one hand; not a single one had made his breath catch and his groin tighten like this.

Merlin pulled back, lips lingering, clinging to Arthur's bottom lip until all he could feel was Merlin's breath and Merlin's eyes were all he could see. "Is this all right?" Merlin asked.

"Very," he answered. His hands slid from Merlin's shoulder to his waist and pulled him down until Merlin straddled his lap. "Very all right."

Merlin held Arthur's face between his hands and looked at him. He looked at him, solemn and wondering, until a beautiful, idiotic grin spread across his face. He was still grinning when he bent his head to Arthur's for another kiss.

Arthur closed his eyes and let Merlin take the lead. His awkwardness, his worry about his inexperience melted away with the first touch of Merlin's tongue against his. They kissed in soft touches, not hesitant but not hurried.

He wrapped his arms around Merlin and tried to pull him tighter against his body. Merlin slipped a little on his lap and laughed as their mouths broke apart.

Grinning, he got back onto his feet and held out his hand to Arthur. "Sofa?"

His gaze lingered over the full curve of Merlin's lips. His bottom lip glistened; Arthur wondered which one of them had made it wet, and smiled at the question. "You're smarter than you look."

Merlin rolled his eyes and pulled him to his feet. Their hands stayed linked as Merlin guided him into the next room, skin brushing on skin.

The couch was actually a loveseat. They had to curl around each other to kiss, which brought their bodies together in an awkward, intimate tangle. Arousal melted through Arthur's limbs, honey-slow and sweet.

His tongue was prodding against Merlin's, an experimental tease, when his phone buzzed in his pocket. Merlin started laughing, giddy. "So kinky already?"

Arthur nipped at his chin in affectionate punishment. He had to work his hand from under Merlin's back and then back under Merlin's knee to get to the phone in his pocket. Merlin made no effort to assist the process.

He meant to toss the phone to the side once he freed it from his pocket, but habit made him glance at the screen. The buzzing had come from a text message from Gwaine, wanting to know where the hell he was.

That made him look at the time and sigh. "I should go."

Merlin stroked his thumb along Arthur's jaw before kissing him again. "That sounds like a terrible idea."

"The paps have been following me everywhere except the school, trying to figure out whom I'm seeing. If you don't want them to know it's you, I can't stay too late."

Merlin stiffened at that, sensual pliability gone in an instant.

"It's all right." Arthur smoothed a hand over the back of Merlin's head and kissed him. "I don't really want them intruding, either."

Merlin relaxed and grinned in embarrassment. "So I'm seeing you now, am I?"

"Do you want to be?"

In answer, Merlin pressed in to kiss him, and Arthur almost lost track of the time again. It was Merlin who pulled away and started to untangle them. "All right, get out of here before you ruin my life. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Dramatic," Arthur teased as he straightened his clothes and hair. It was hard to imagine that anything could ruin how he felt right now.

When he made it back to his car he texted Gwaine that he was on his way. Then he sat behind the wheel for a minute. His lips still felt like they were being kissed, tender, almost sore. He looked down at his hands, where Merlin's fingers had curled into his.

If his father could see how happy he was in this moment, surely now he would understand and support Arthur's choice. He tried to imagine his father giving PFLAG his royal patronage; the image made him snicker like the giddy schoolboy he was turning into.

Still snickering, he turned the ignition and drove off, followed by the ever-patient Elyan and Percival, now late for their shift change.

When he got home he found Gwaine and Lancelot sitting in the front with beers and blueprints. They looked up, and Gwaine started to say something. He stopped with a startled look when Arthur beamed at him.

He walked over and put his hand on Lancelot's shoulder. "Thank you so much for being straight."

"You're...welcome," Lancelot answered.

Arthur laughed, gave him another squeeze, and went off to his room. He pretended not to hear Gwaine calling his name after him, and he locked (and Gwaine-proofed) the door behind him. After a thousand of Gwaine's infatuations, it was Arthur's turn to be the barmy one.

Merlin had to poke at his face with his fingers as he walked out the door the next morning to make sure he had not started grinning like a hyena—again. He recognized this blissful headiness, this floating infatuation. It was something not yet love, but already more than a crush.

He started his trudge down the road to school. At any moment he expected to hear the growl of an outdated motor behind him; he looked over his shoulder a few times before catching himself with a roll of his eyes.

By the time Arthur showed up, Merlin was just walking past the climbing frame on the edge of the schoolyard. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling and kept walking.

"Good morning," Arthur called from just behind him. "Need a lift?"

Merlin stopped and turned to face him. Fuck, Arthur was even more beautiful than he remembered, now that he was letting himself really look. His smile brightened his face and made his eyes crinkle at the corners; sunlight lit up his hair and his shirt stretched across his shoulders as he leaned out the window.

With an effort, Merlin kept his face neutral and raised his eyebrows. He looked pointedly between Arthur and the school, now less than fifty meters away.

Arthur shrugged. "I got ambushed this morning. Apparently Gwaine isn't used to seeing me happy. It freaked him out."

Merlin finally let himself grin and strolled along beside the car towards the school. "Oh, so I make you happy, do I?"

"Don't flatter yourself so much. I'm just pleased to be proven right about your orientation."

"You weren't right about anything. It took you three guesses!"

"Still won a prize, didn't I?" Arthur said and his grin made Merlin stumble a little because his legs were melting Dali-style.

He thought it would be difficult to work beside Arthur all day and stay professional, but there was so much to do and working beside Arthur felt natural and right. Lancelot gave him a few inquisitive looks over the course of the day. Merlin just smiled and Lancelot did not press.

Around lunchtime he did consider pulling Arthur into one of the many empty rooms for some private time. However, the thought of snogging in any room where either Dr. Gaius or any of his young pupils had entered gave him the creeps. That eliminated everything but the broom closet, and even Merlin had more dignity than that.

Arthur came up behind him late in the afternoon. "Are you ready to head home?"

Merlin looked at him over his shoulder. "Bit early, isn't it?" Not that he would complain about the idea, if Arthur intended to come with him.

A light touch on his side said that he did, and it sent a tiny shiver through Merlin's chest. "Actually, I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind if I came with you and did a little more work over dinner. The pupils start back for summer term in a couple of weeks, and I was hoping you'd help me plan a surprise to make up for the inconvenience."

"Fantastic idea," Vivian chirped as she walked by with a group of workmen. "You can both get out of my way so I can get something done."

"Your professional enthusiasm is always inspiring, Viv," Arthur said.

Merlin just flipped her the bird behind Arthur's back as they left.

When they got into the car, they were alone for the first time. Merlin took a deep, shaky breath, and when he exhaled, heat flooded down into his legs.

Arthur exhaled, too. He started the car; once they were moving, Arthur took his hand off the gear lever and, without looking at Merlin, held it palm up between them.

Merlin twined his fingers into Arthur's without hesitation. The heat of their connected skin made his whole body hot. Disengaging their hands when the car parked left him cold—he jumped out and strode for the door, intent on getting to privacy.

Arthur caught up with him as he got the door unlocked and open. Merlin walked the few feet into the kitchen and waited. Arthur closed the door behind him and then stood in the middle of the foyer, looking uncertain.

He could understand Arthur's hesitation. Neither of them had much experience with this, Arthur almost none. This thing between them felt so strong, but its newness brought with it a certain fragility.

Good thing one of them was not fussed about niceties.

Once he took the first step, momentum carried him right into Arthur's body. He pinned Arthur against the door with his chest and kissed him with his mouth open and straining.

Arthur gave way to Merlin's kiss, body relaxing against the door. His arms countered the surrender, tightening around Merlin and pulling him tight against him.

They kissed clumsy, wet, and hot. Merlin surged up against Arthur; it was the first time he had felt the full length of Arthur's body pressed flush against him, hard and male.

Arthur surged against him in return. His kiss had more confidence than it had the night before, which might have something to do with the way Merlin was moaning into his mouth.

At some point Merlin managed to extract his tongue long enough to speak. "Did you really want to work?" he asked with a gasp.

"Fuck no." Arthur shook his head and Merlin had to kiss him all over his dazed, stupid face.

And then he could not resist. "So you never intended to do anything nice for the children?"

Arthur gaped at him, dumbfounded. "No, I just—I thought—"

The snicker broke through his façade. "Relax, I'm just fucking with you."

Dumbfounded turned to annoyed in an instant. Merlin took Arthur's hand and pulled him into the sitting room before Arthur could work up any indignation that might get in the way of making out. Screw the kids; they were already getting a shiny new school out of the deal.

Merlin distracted Arthur with kisses until they were safely curled up together on the loveseat once more. They did not have enough room to stretch out and press their bodies together again. Merlin would have liked to take Arthur to his bed for that, but that seemed a bit too forward less than twenty-four hours after their first kiss.

And the smaller space gave him an excuse to sling his leg over Arthur's hip. Arthur obliged with a caress up his thigh; his hand stopped just below Merlin's arse. Merlin's breath caught, which made Arthur press deeper into Merlin's mouth.

Arthur filled his world and all his senses: the feel of him under Merlin's hands and lips; the warm scent of him and the sweet taste of his mouth; the tiny hitches and moans that he was sure no one on earth had ever heard before Merlin. Sometimes he had to pull back just to see Arthur flushed and glazed with arousal.

Blood flushed Merlin's cheeks and pulsed between his legs as well. Last night his arousal had slow-burned with their new exploration and growing intimacy. Tonight it just burned.

Merlin's hands tightened on him as Arthur mouthed over his throat. "Can I touch you?" he blurted.

Arthur lifted his head and his eyebrows. "There are very few parts of you that aren't touching me."

Except for a couple of really key parts. Merlin wormed his hand underneath the tangle of their limbs. "No, I mean can I touch you?"

His hand rubbed over the bulge in Arthur's trousers. Arthur's mouth went round with surprise, a tantalizing opening. "Oh." He visibly struggled to keep his cool, though his ragged breath belied the effort. "If you like."

Merlin was unbuckling Arthur's belt before he got the words all the way out. Arthur gave a shaky laugh and moved his arms and legs out of Merlin's way.

Having open access to Arthur's groin made new excitement bubble up through Merlin's body. He pulled the belt free and got the zip open, and then he got Arthur's cock out. Arthur had already hardened enough to fill Merlin's hand with firm flesh.

He had snogged other men before, usually in dark clubs or back at uni parties, but he had never got off with any of them. When he fantasized about it, he imagined that touching another cock would feel pretty much the same as touching himself.

When he closed his hand around Arthur's cock, he realized how completely wrong he was. Touching Arthur felt nothing like the time he had spent with his own cock just last night. He could not feel the warmth and pressure of his hand—but he could feel the response in Arthur's cock as he stroked.

Arthur stiffened rapidly until he was tight and red in Merlin's grip. The awkward upstroke squeezed a trickle of precome from under the foreskin—Merlin felt it wet his fingers, but his eyes had locked on Arthur's face.

As soon as Merlin touched him, Arthur's gaze had gone fuzzy. He stared down at Merlin's hand moving over his cock. His breath hitched whenever Merlin's palm rubbed over the head.

Arthur tipped his head back as his cock swelled into true rigidity. His eyes stayed open; as he blinked, Merlin could see they were wet. "Holy shit," Arthur breathed. "I'm—it's almost—fuck."

Merlin leaned into him and pressed soft kisses to the line of his jaw. "Go on. No need to wait if you want to come."

"Of course I want—" Arthur stopped in mid-sentence, mouth hanging open. His hips jerked as though the mere thought of attaining orgasm had set off the inevitable.

Come spurted from his cock. Merlin tightened his hand, trying to feel the pulse as it released. It smelled different than Merlin's come usually did, and his mouth started to water as he imagined having Arthur's cock in his mouth while it erupted.

When the pulses stopped, Arthur started laughing. He lifted his head to look at Merlin, eyes still wet but shining with happiness over his grin. "That was fantastic. Amazing. Merlin, I—"

"I should have known that the only way to get a word of praise out of you was through sexual favours."

Arthur huffed and then hauled Merlin back into his arms to kiss him hard.

Their kisses stayed hard—and so did Merlin. Soon, though not soon enough, Arthur's hand slid between Merlin's legs and massaged the bulge of his cock. The pressure seemed like a relief at first, until the ache increased.

"I want to touch you, too," Arthur mumbled against his lips.

"Was hoping you'd say that." Merlin started fumbling for his belt. Arthur tried to help; they ended up wrestling in an unstable tangle.

Merlin wound up lying across Arthur's lap, his back resting on one arm of the loveseat while propping his feet (bare at last after squirming trousers and pants off, no thanks to Arthur's help) on the other arm.

Arthur curled one arm around Merlin's shoulders, staring down at the stiff cock jutting up from Merlin's groin. "Spread your legs," he said and the roughness in his voice made Merlin desperate to comply.

He bent his outer leg and tucked his ankle under his other thigh, opening himself as much as he could. His cock swayed, skimming his belly; he waited for Arthur's hand to close around it, wondering if it would feel amazing or just spectacular.

But Arthur's fingers trailed along his hip, teased the inside of his thigh, and then stroked his balls. It felt good in the way that made him feel crazed with urgency. He made an encouraging, almost pleading noise in the back of his throat.

Arthur only cupped his balls in a gentle grip and rolled them between his palm and fingers. When one finger stroked gently behind them, Merlin realized: Arthur was exploring, getting to know the first body that was not his own.

Merlin drew in a sharp breath. He could have come right then, just from the thought of this scrutiny, but now he wanted to hold on and let Arthur have his fill.

As Arthur explored and caressed his genitals, Merlin let out a slow sigh and turned to rest his head against Arthur's. They breathed together in ragged counterpoint, heads together, watching Arthur's hand move between Merlin's legs.

Finally Arthur lifted his head and his hand and licked his palm in broad stripes. He turned and kissed Merlin deeply. When their mouths locked together, he wrapped his hand around Merlin's cock and started jerking him.

Merlin was half lost in kissing Arthur when he came. The orgasm was softer than he had expected after such sharp arousal, but it rolled through him in strong waves.

When it was over, Arthur rested his hand on Merlin's stomach, under his rumpled shirt. They leaned their heads together again as their breathing eased. Arthur's flies were still spread open; Merlin could feel the softness of his spent cock against his hip.

He felt drowsy and content and started to contemplate a bit of a nap. Surely he could coax Arthur into bed now, just for a little sleep.

Something started to beep. Merlin's muzzy head could not place the sound at first, but his hindbrain associated the tiny beep beeps with something unpleasant. When Arthur's lap shifted underneath him as Arthur tried to get into his pocket, Merlin realized what it was.

"You set an alarm? Really?"

"I had a feeling I might get distracted." Arthur pushed a teasing kiss into the corner of Merlin's mouth, but then grimaced when he looked at his phone. "I have to go."

"What? But it's so early." His vision of a comfortable snooze, maybe followed by getting to suck Arthur's cock, dissipated into a haze of disappointment.

Merlin grabbed Arthur's phone to check the time for himself and had to look at it for several seconds before the numbers made sense. He thought they had been together for less than an hour, but suddenly the clock showed late evening.

Arthur poked him in the side until Merlin shifted off him. "May I use your toilet? I had better clean up a bit."

"Sure. Past the kitchen, second door. If you run into the wall, you've gone too far."

Merlin curled back into the warm space Arthur left when he stood up. He no longer wanted to doze, lest he miss the last few minutes he could spend with Arthur, even if Arthur was in a different room. He listened to the water running in the bathroom. It was a comforting sound; a relationship sound.

Arthur returned, looking remarkably fresh and put together. He sat on the edge of the loveseat, kissed Merlin and ran his fingers through Merlin's hair. "I love this," he murmured. "I love being with you."

Merlin smiled up at him, dopey with contentment. "It's almost the weekend, you know. We'll have plenty of time, if we're sneaky."

Arthur shook his head. "Can't."

"Why not? Everyone knows you're a workaholic. They won't think it's strange that you're out here on the weekend."

"I have to go to London this weekend. Still playing catch-up on some of the kingly duties, you know."

"Oh, yes." Merlin fluttered a hand in the air with a regal air. "I find it so tiresome myself, all that reigning over everything and waving at people."

Arthur gave him a haughty frown. "You're making it surprisingly easy to leave you."

Merlin dropped his hand and grinned up at him. "You're lying."

"Maybe." Arthur grinned back and kissed him again before leaving.

Although it had only happened twice, Arthur found he did not enjoy his workday as much when he knew he could not go home with Merlin afterwards. He did give Merlin a ride home, just for a few more minutes of semi-privacy, and endured Merlin's woebegone look as he disappeared into his homely little house, alone.

Arthur drove himself back to London, alone, and had not had a moment of solitude since.

"This is the last set, sir." George placed the small stack of letters on the blotter in front of him.

Arthur put his phone down on the desk, face down to hide any incoming texts from Merlin, which were likely to be deliciously dirty. The heavy pen he picked up in its stead felt like a poor substitute for his—boyfriend? Lover? Paramour?

Well, whatever Merlin was.

He focused on the letters, which offered his royal congratulations on fiftieth wedding anniversaries and hundredth birthdays. Arthur could not imagine being one hundred years old. "Good for you, Mary Collins," he murmured as he carefully penned his new signature onto the thick royal letterhead. "Good for you, old girl."

And what would it be like to be married to someone for a half century? If he were able to wed, if he wed Merlin, would they still be in love after fifty years? What kind of life would they have had together?

He brushed those thoughts aside with impatience. His country and his church would not allow him to marry—not yet, anyway. And it was much too early to think about love, though he could already feel the inevitability of it closing around him, joyful and terrifying.

Things would change; he had confidence in that. He blotted the final signature, waited for George to sweep them off the desk, and then reached for the stack of newspapers George had accumulated for him while he was away.

During his time in Wales, he had avoided the press as much as he could. At first he had just wanted to concentrate on his work, and then he had a hard time concentrating on anything but Merlin. Let the world talk about him as much as it wanted; he had better things to do.

He dug into the newspapers, magazines, and printouts of the major online outlets. The headlines read as he expected: "KING DELIVERS STUNNING PERSONAL NEWS;" "KING ARTHUR KEEPING JOB, DITCHING WOMEN;" "QUEEN ARTHUR DECLARES WAR ON CHURCH OF ENGLAND."

"Duel at dawn, Geoffrey." Arthur snickered, imagining the Archbishop of Canterbury facing him at twenty paces, some kind of doublet straining over his belly. The PM would probably agree to be his second.

Of course, in actuality, Arthur had already met with both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York as part of the normal process of his succession. They had both been gracious and deferential and very careful not to mention their opinions on Arthur's revelations or what effect they might have on his position as Head of the Church. Those conversations would happen later, after everything had settled and everyone had a chance to think.

But they would happen. And if anyone wanted to call it a war, Arthur was happy to go into battle.

The articles, despite the sensational headlines, stayed mostly respectful and kind toward him; Arthur had built up a great deal of good will as a young Prince. Only a handful took serious moral issue with a gay man's ability to lead the Commonwealth and be a role model for impressionable children, although Arthur suspected those opinions were louder and wider spread than his staff wanted him to have to hear.

The more serious publications were already delving into the succession issue with a sideline into his role in the Church of England. Arthur forced himself to read those parts carefully to gauge the mood of the nation.

Of course, every single one of them had to speculate as to whether he had a boyfriend, and if so, whom it might be. He saw pictures of himself with Gwaine, with Leon, even—he shuddered inside—with George.

Fortunately, no one seemed to have caught wind yet of his fast friendship with a certain Welsh school teacher. Of course, he wanted Merlin by his side and could hardly wait to watch him squirm on camera.

But more than that, he wanted a real shot at making it work with Merlin for as long as he could. Arthur, like anyone who had picked up a copy of Hello! in their lives, knew that a media frenzy levied an almost certain death sentence on a new relationship.

However, the most important thing was that not a single report seemed to know anything about his pathetic pseudo-date with Lancelot.

"Reading your own press, Arthur? Though I have to say, you still haven't caused as much of a scandal as when Uther acknowledged me."

His back tensed up at the sound of Morgana's voice, yanking him out of a fleeting memory of being warm and alone with Merlin. "What are you doing here, Morgana?"

She stepped the rest of the way into his study and looked around. "What are you doing here? I went to three palaces looking for you, but here you are."

"I can work wherever I please. Clarence House is a royal residence."

Morgana's jaw tightened. "Do you even want to be King?"

"If this is leading into a joke about queens and my sexuality, I should tell you that I just read six variations of that in several fine online publications." Arthur held up a stack of printouts. "You'll have to work hard to come up with something original."

Surprise and an odd remorse flashed over her face. As she approached his desk, emotions flickered in her expression, from anger to hope to fear, like she was some kind of cybernetic holograph whose circuitry was on the fritz.

He really had to stop letting Gwaine choose the movies.

"Why are you here?" he asked again.

"I need to ask something of my sovereign." She sat down with a delicate dignity; he could only imagine what the words were costing her. "I wish to marry."

He stared at her, stunned. "What?"

"I want to get married," she repeated. "And since you are now the King and head of the family, I need your permission."

How that must be burning her, though she did not look as disgruntled as he would have thought. "Who on earth—oh God." It hit him in a nauseating blow. "No. That's insane."

"Yes," she answered with calm satisfaction.

"No. Stop. I forbid you to speak." He buried his face in his arms on the top of the desk. "If you say it, I'll have to picture it."

"I wish to marry Agravaine du Bois."

And there went his brain in a puff of oily smoke. "Argh. No. That's disgusting. He's my uncle."

"He's no relation to me. Yet."

He banged his head once on the desk blotter before straightening up. "Why now? You've had your creepy little affair going on for years. Is this some kind of test to see what I'll let you get away with?"

"In a sense. Uther forbade it a long time ago. Over his dead body, he said."

"That sounds familiar," Arthur muttered.

"I thought it might." She tilted her head slightly, studying him. "But you've chosen to follow your heart, with no deference to tradition or our father's mandates. So I thought you might understand."

Arthur understood very well. After his little declaration to the nation, if he denied Morgana the match of her choice, he would be the worst sort of hypocrite and she would not hesitate to let everyone know it. She had him over a barrel, and they both knew it. "Do you love him?"

Her face gave nothing away. "I want to marry him. My feelings are my own concern."

He sighed. "Very well. You have my permission. I'll give you away myself if that's what you want. But not until after the coronation."

"That's acceptable." She gave a gracious nod and rose as if she were the monarch and he the supplicant. "Thank you, Arthur."

Arthur studied her another moment. Her face flickered again; he felt if he could just reach into her brain at the exact right second, he could get through to the sister he wanted to love. "We used to be friends. Do you remember that?"

A sad look, almost apologetic. "That was before I was your sister."

He held her gaze, then nodded once, dismissing her. She gave a small, ironic curtsey and left.

George caught the door before it closed behind her. "Sir, Prime Minister Bayard's office sent a proposed agenda for your tour of Australia. Just in time for you to review it before you leave for Cardiff again."

He said "Cardiff" with the same intonation he would use to discuss a pile of unsightly clutter. Combined with the reminder of a dozen memorials he had no wish to endure, it piled up on the heels of Morgana's departure until Arthur's brain called a halt to the entire proceeding.

"Actually, that will have to wait." Arthur grabbed his phone from the desk and tapped out a message to Merlin. "I'm leaving immediately."

"Without answering the Prime Minister?" George sounded like Arthur had just asked him to hide the Australian Prime Minister's murdered corpse.

"The Prime Minister who serves at my pleasure." Arthur stood up and gathered the handful of news items he wanted to show either Gwaine or Merlin. "You can answer him. Tell him it's at the top of my to do list."

"Sir?" Now George sounded like Arthur had just asked him to insult the Prime Minister's mother, and while George would never dream of refusing his King's command, he was deeply puzzled and disturbed by it.

Arthur decided that was the best he was likely to get. It was time to head home.

Chapter 4

Date: 2012-09-30 11:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The thing is, no-matter what "morgagna" tries to do to dethrone ARTHUR, she's still a BASTARD and has NO RIGHTS! Thou, in this story, you gave her the title or acknowledgement of 'Princess Royal' which I find to be stupid and totally WRONG..She shouldn't even have those RIGHT or is entitled to it at all. I guess, you must like her enough to break the rules..A bastard is a bastard, no-matter if the child is acknowledge and for HER or her future children to be entitled to the throne is just BS and you know it..That's what pisses me off..

Date: 2012-10-28 01:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Bloody hell. Calm down, psycho.

Date: 2012-10-28 02:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
WOW!! "PSYCHO" Those are strong words... You need help.

Date: 2013-05-06 05:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Is it so hard to be supportive of someone doing their best to share their story with us? If you don't like it, don't read it.

...Psycho. :P


Date: 2013-05-07 07:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Now you're just being childish.

Well, I can VERY WELL state that it's GOOD writing when it's NOT!


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Cori Lannam

October 2017


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