Pairings: Merlin/Arthur, a side-y side of Gwen/Lancelot
Word Count: 26,000 approx.
Warnings: Both main characters are 16 in this fic
Summary: Merlin is the new scholarship boy at Wakefield. He literally runs into Arthur Pendragon one day.
Author's Notes: (i) My thanks go to super special beta S. for fixing this. (ii) Wakefield is an imaginary public school modeled after a mash up of Harrow, Eton, and Winchester College.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to Shine and BBC. I make no profit from this endeavor.
Arthur was striding down the ancient, stately corridor of the Humanities Department, heading to his Geography class. He was early; he always was, so he stopped and waited for Leon to catch up with him.
“Hi, Leon,” Arthur half-mouthed, shouting not being allowed, and raised his hand.
Leon hurried up to him. “Hey, how was Long Leave?”
Arthur shrugged his shoulders. “Fine, just fine. Father was in New York most of the time. Only back for the weekends. Morgana didn't come home from uni at all. I had the house to myself.”
Leon kept smiling at him cheerfully. “I wish I could say the same; three sisters, mate, three sisters.”
“I can see how that could be far from ideal.”
“At least with Noble off to uni,” Leon said confidently, “I'm sure to be Captain of the Eleven.”
Arthur clapped Leon on the back, throwing a look at his watch to make sure he wouldn't be late. He wanted to make Sixth Form Elite this year. “You will be,” Arthur said. He wasn't lying; if anybody had the chops, it was Leon.
Leon nudged him in the ribs. “Tell me: is it true that Severn was withdrawn?”
Arthur snorted. “He was caught sniffing cocaine,” he said. “Of course he was expelled.”
“He did make a habit of mellowing out,” Leon said, adjusting the grip on his textbooks. “What a sod.”
“I wouldn't define sniffing snow as 'mellowing out'”, said Arthur, holding his chin up. “The sod was rightly booted out.” Arthur found the breaking of rules distasteful. Breaking rules was easy; succeeding without doing it took guts, principles, and strength of character. “Good thing about it is that I get the room to myself, at long last.”
He started hastening down the hallway. Only four minutes left before his lesson began.
Leon started following him, even though he wasn't headed the same way as Arthur. Leon hated Geography.
“You're better off than me then,” Leon said, walking and talking.
Arthur would have replied, when something happened that prevented him from gently teasing his friend back.
With no warning, he found himself on the floor, hitting it hard. Something or someone must have barrelled into him. All the air was driven out of his lungs and two pointy elbows were suddenly poking him in the ribs.
His books and the notes he'd taken over the summer had probably gone flying. Even more annoying was finding that someone was practically perched on top of him.
When he opened eyes he didn't remember closing, Arthur found that a bloke was grinning sheepishly down at him. Arthur's lapful was all dark hair, blue eyes, and a rather vacant expression. His tie sat askew and his shirt's collar, Arthur noted, wasn't properly buttoned up.
“What the hell!” said Arthur. “What are you, Attila the Hun?”
Arthur heard Leon snigger in the background. This wasn't funny in the least. More than a little miffed, Arthur stiffened; the weight of the unknown person, this peril, still on top of him. “Get off!”
“I'm sorry,” the boy — the cretin who'd bowled him over — said. “I was late. My mum's car broke down on the motorway, sorry. I was so late I had to skip the Captain of the House meeting and the House Master meeting. I changed in the loos. And my mum was shuffled away before I could say good-bye.” The cretin smiled genially. “First day.”
“Did I say at any point that I wanted to hear your life story?” Arthur asked. The idiot shook his head. “No, exactly. Now shove the fuck off!”
Looking both hurt and irritated, the fool gathered himself up, though his gangly limbs got all a-twist in the process. When he'd untangled himself, he said, “I apologised,” and flashed Arthur an angry look.
Arthur had time to note that the boy's uniform sat strangely on him even though all school outfits were made to measure. The jacket with the sewn in logo, a rampant dragon, fit his shoulders, but the sleeves were an inch too long. In the scuffle, his shirt had come un-tucked.
He wasn't presentable and seemed not to know it.
“The least you could do is acknowledge that I did,” the unknown said instead of worrying about the state he was in. He'd get reprimanded for the tie thing alone.
Rage building up since the idiot was making him late, Arthur got to his feet. “It was your fault.”
“And I said 'sorry',” the idiot said.
Leon chuckled, which incensed Arthur further. Worse, they'd gathered an audience. Arthur hated making a spectacle of himself.
“That doesn't change the fact that you made me late,” Arthur drawled threateningly.
“Oh, I see,” the stubborn idiot said. “You're one of those.”
“‘One of those’ what?”
Calamity Boy took a step closer. “Posh gits who think they own the world because they're daddy's boys.”
There was a chorus of 'scholarship boy' from the fringes.
“I'm not here because of my father.”
Arthur wasn't. He just wasn't.
“You want to tell me you're here because of your bright intellect?” Calamity Boy taunted.
Arthur saw red. He grabbed the idiot by the jacket, feeling the heat radiating from his chest, Leon yelling something in the background, and lifted a fist. He'd never meant to strike. He never would have. Arthur wasn't like that. Well, hadn't been since year 10, but that was the scene Professor Holland, accoutred in all the glory of his tailcoat and stiff collar, was presented with.
“What is this?” he asked sternly.
Arthur let go of the guy.
Free, the moron surreptitiously adjusted his jacket. It was useless; it was now rumpled and his shirt's tail was dangling out of his trousers.
“This kind of behaviour has never been condoned at Wakefield,” Holland chided them. “This establishment is one of the oldest in the country. We're the chief nurse of England's statesmen. Kings, princes and ministers were enrolled here at one time or another. Behaviour such as yours, worthy of common...”
Calamity Boy hummed under his breath. Arthur read the noise as disagreement.
Holland was droning on, “...street thugs is not to be condoned.”
Arthur bowed his head and said nothing, knowing this was the thing to do in such a circumstance.
Calamity Boy tried to speak up in his defence.
Shut up, you idiot, Arthur thought.
Holland's thunderous face told Arthur that the prof harboured no wish to be interrupted. “You will be punished for this,” he told him.
He extracted a pad and a pen from his jacket's pocket. “Name?”
“Merlin Emrys,” Calamity Boy said, a little defiantly.
Arthur had never heard of an Emrys family. Calamity Boy was then, indeed, an outsider to the gilded world from which Wakefield students were usually recruited.
Holland jotted the name down with a frown. “The prefect will hear of this.” He put away his notepad and pen.
Emrys had the good sense not to say a word.
“And you, Pendragon,” Holland added, “don't think you'll be exempt.”
Holland stared at him severely. “Now off to your classes. This goes for all of you,” he said, waving at the little audience, which dispersed.
So saying, he retreated down the hallway and into a classroom.
Arthur picked up his books from the floor. When he was all set, he straightened, walked up to the Merlin boy and said, “You'll be gated.”
Judging by Emrys' confused expression, it was clear he had never heard the term before. He'd see.
Leaving Emrys behind, Arthur stalked off to his own class, feeling satisfied that Merlin would get his comeuppance for disrupting Arthur’s morning. There was absolutely no twinge of sympathy in him for Merlin, none, despite Emrys' initially friendly attitude.
None, and Arthur wasn’t thinking about Merlin because he was sorry for the idiot. His thoughts were directed his way because no one had ever lurched right into him for reasons other than sports.
That was it.
Emrys, the fool.
Merlin's first day wasn't shaping up too well. First his mum's car had broken down on the M1, then he'd realised there'd be no time left for breakfast and that he would have to dress as quickly as possible in order to make it on time for his first day's very first lesson.
He still couldn't wrap his head around how strict the uniform-related protocol was; there were rules about cuffs and buttons and about the way the regulation tie should be knotted. He wasn't too sure he'd complied with every single one of these rules. He couldn't retain all of them. He supposed he'd have to wing it and brave any reproof that might come his way till he did learn them all by heart.
Then before he'd even managed to find the classroom itself, he'd involuntarily bumped into the greatest wanker that had ever lived. Merlin had apologised and the wanker had persisted in acting as though he was the injured party or something.
Merlin had lost his temper; he knew he could when someone rubbed him the wrong way and his unwise goading of the idiot had left him with an enemy and some kind of punishment waiting for him that was probably worse than a normal detention.
These Wakefield guys were no longer into that birching thing, were they?
The later part of the morning hadn't been as catastrophic as its beginning. The first two lessons had been neither too easy nor too difficult and Merlin thought he could settle in easily provided he didn't think too often about his old school and home.
Since he knew no one and no one seemed interested in making friends with him, break had been lonely, but at least uneventful.
Besides, there was no sign of the monumental git from before, which Merlin counted as a great plus.
Sitting on a bench and looking at his new school-mates horseplaying around, he understood that he was the odd duck here. He was proud to be. He wouldn't bend or change, even if he was marginalised. He'd promised Will and himself that he would never do it.
During the last period before lunch break — Biology — Merlin met a friendly guy, who greeted him by saying, “New blood at last.”
He patted the free seat next to him and waited for Merlin to sit down.
Since Merlin had no particular reason to give him the cold shoulder and rather wanted nice new friends, he did.
“Hi, I'm Merlin,” he said.
“Gwaine,” Gwaine said. “So where are you from?”
Gwaine evidently didn't know where that was judging by his expression.
“It's tiny,” Merlin confessed. “It's a dot on a map.”
“Whatever,” said Gwaine, lounging back in his seat in a way that was too laid back and relaxed for a school setting. “Nice to have someone new here. I was definitely bored and now I'm not.”
Merlin was about to answer when the professor, who introduced himself as Mr Sykes, came in and started speechifying about the importance of being in sixth form, how this was a pivotal moment in their lives and how they were about to gear up for university. He described the lower sixth curriculum, how they'd study a Biology and Disease module and a Variety of Living Organisms module and tried to excite some enthusiasm for the subject.
He concluded by saying that, “I, and Wakefield at large, expect all our pupils to show intellectual curiosity, confidence and a capacity for independent studying and reasoning.”
Merlin had found his old comprehensive school teacher more fun than this drone.
“Relax,” Gwaine murmured. “The holiday field trips are what I'm taking Biology for. Highlights have included Malaysia, Borneo, Namibia and Botswana.”
Merlin cringed, knowing he could never afford to pay the extra fees needed to take part in such exotic school trips.
Which was when Mr Sykes said, “Before I begin, I'd like to introduce you to our new sixth former, Mr Emrys. He's a King Colleger and a top student; one of the best in the country.”
Merlin was sure everybody was staring at him and not in a benevolent way either. He felt like a rare bird in a zoo. “I expect you all old Wakefieldians to show him the ropes.”
And then the lesson began.
When it was over, Merlin relaxed. It was lunchtime.
Gwaine towed him towards the refectory where they would have their one o'clock meal.
The refectory was a long, rectangular hall arranged with larger and smaller tables as well as benches. It was equipped with deep freezers, three microwave ovens and tea and coffee machines that looked very sci-fi.
More than a hundred students filled the room and most of them ignored Merlin as though he was a gnat, some kind of lower class stigma attaching itself to him, even though most of them couldn't possibly have known who Merlin was.
They had to have a radar designed to spot the people they viewed as interlopers.
Like the others, Merlin and Gwaine queued for their food and waited for the refectory staff to hand them the printed menus, which listed a number of gourmet choices per course; the staff also helped ladle and dish up their food.
Once this process was seen to, they set trays down on their table and settled down.
“So,” Gwaine asked, attacking his chicken chasseur. “How do you find Wakefield?”
Merlin still couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that the refectory served things like Brie and Cranberry Parcels or Scampi and Tartare Sauce, let alone process his first day in a school that looked more like a museum than a school. But Gwaine was nice, so he said, “Okay, I guess.”
Gwaine stuffed his face with chips, and asked, munching, “I can tell you're not telling the truth.”
“I miss home,” Merlin conceded, tasting his meatballs.
“And I had a run-in with a cad,” Merlin owned. “By the way, what's ‘gating’?”
Gwaine laughed, half choked on his chips and then had to drink half a bottle of coke in order not to die on the spot. When he'd recovered, he said, “It's not caning, don't worry.”
“Being confined to your own quarters,” Gwaine said with a twinkle in his eyes. He was finding this funny. “You'll have to report to a prefect every few hours or so.”
“Oh,” Merlin said. That was bad but not ominous.
“Who was the cad you ran into?”
“Blond, fit,” Merlin began. Is nice padding to fall on... “The name's Pen something.”
Gwaine snorted again. “Whooo,” he said, “golden boy Pendragon.”
Merlin scratched his nose. “Golden boy?”
Gwaine stole a meatball from his plate. “Don't like these?” he mumbled, plunging his fork into one. Then he explained, “He's on the football team, plays polo, rugby and badminton. He's goodish at all of those. He's a busy bee. He writes the sports section for the Wakefield Informer. He's Uther Pendragon's son and a posh twat.”
Merlin mulled this over. He'd come to the same conclusion as Gwaine even without possessing all the data. “Not much different from the rest of the school, though,” he said, playing with his salad.
“I'm not saying you're wrong but what makes you say that?” Gwaine asked, studying him more attentively than he had before.
Merlin nudged his shoe against the chair's leg. “Did you see how they looked at me when they learnt I was a King's Colleger?”
Gwaine smiled at him in a friendly way. “That was because they know you must be a straight A boy to get in on a scholarship.”
“I passed the admission tests,” Merlin said. The truth was that the scholarship covered only 60 percent of the school's fee which was in the order of an appalling £30,000 a year. The rest was being paid for by Uncle Gaius. Knowing this, Merlin was aiming for a bursary to relieve Gaius of this onus, but he wasn't sure he'd be awarded one. He admitted to part of his problems. “I have to get A's to keep it.”
Gwaine arched a brow and his lips twitched. “I'm sure you're a bright boy. Sykes doesn't exactly go around dispensing praise, you know.”
The rest of the morning and early afternoon passed without incident. Merlin had two more lessons and then was given a prospectus about the sports activities he was encouraged to enrol in.
Most were stupid sports Merlin would never learn how to play. Merlin wasn't Prince Charles and fencing and polo sounded too outlandish for him to even contemplate. Cricket was for grandfathers and he didn't like the prospect of falling off from a horse that was involved with polo.
That left the chess team, which was even more boring. And swimming.
Since sports were highly credited and you would be labeled as a black sheep if you didn't take part in any of them — they quoted Latin at him — he opted for the simplest option: swimming. You couldn't kill yourself swimming. Not unless you drowned and Merlin wasn't bad at backstroke.
This left him late for the tour of his house with the House Master. He'd already skipped it in the morning and couldn't afford to once again.
He rushed along pebbled paths and winding, well-kept lawns, avoiding other students and keeping his eyes low, school bag bouncing on his back.
By the time he'd run past the second quadrant he was out of breath. By the time he reached past the Science Building and careened into the South Quad, he was positively dying.
Thankfully Bradbys House wasn't far from there. When he saw his house building, he doubled over, panting.
The Bradbys House building was, in fact, big but not as imposing as the older, sometimes outright sixteenth century structures that made up the rest of the school departments. (Except for the newer facilities such as the theatre, libraries and labs.)
It had a pretty slate roof and was overrun by ivy. It otherwise looked hospitable enough even if very different from anything Merlin had been used to; that was, his little Ealdor home, where his tiny room still waited for him, and the comprehensive school complex he'd wended his way to every morning for years.
Merlin pushed back the pang of regret at having left his home and life behind and thought only of how proud his mum had been at learning he'd been accepted at Wakefield. She'd said he'd make an excellent doctor one day. Uncle Gaius, who was a surgeon and had originally suggested Merlin apply for Wakefield, had said much the same.
Merlin couldn't disappoint them.
Casting his nostalgia aside, Merlin entered the building, where he was met with by the House Master and the Matron.
“Ah,” the House Master said. “You must be our newest addition, Mr Emrys.”
“Yes,” Merlin said, hands a little sweaty.
“I'm Tom Smith,” the House Master said. “And this is Mrs Trenmor, the Matron.”
Merlin nodded and did his best not to scuff his feet like an idiot.
“I'm the one responsible for running Bradbys,” Mr Smith said amicably. “These responsibilities include looking after the well-being of the pupils lodging here as well as making sure the House rules are obeyed. My tasks also include giving guidance to the students and writing the references for university entrance.”
Merlin made an interested noise.
“Come, I'll give you a tour of the house. You may ask any question you think of, Mr Emrys.”
The house was a fairly big maze of corridors and stairwells. On the ground floor, Merlin learnt, were the common room, the breakfast room, the house library and a door that gave onto the garden. In the hall a huge House banner was encased in a glass cabinet, there to be admired by, and inspire, all the House members.
Besides the ground floor, there were three other floors, all white-washed and airy. They were covered in light green linoleum, while water pipes ran the length of the corridors. Doors, which gave access to the students' accommodations, lined each side of them. At the end of each hall was a communal bathroom.
“The first floor houses year elevens mostly,” Mr Smith said. “Each bathroom is identical. No favouritism is ever shown to any age group. Wake-up is at 7.30 am. No tardiness is allowed. Breakfast is at 8. Call-over is at 7.15 pm. Lock out, by which time you must be in, at 9pm. If you're out without permission, it's a run to the prefect, which might be followed by an expulsion. Lights out is at 11.00. You may have permission to work after lights out. That permission is granted only by me on special occasions, of course.”
Merlin followed dutifully as he was shown about. On the first floor no one was around. It was too early for some of the students who were still involved in lessons or sport activities.
When they reached the second floor, Mr Smith knocked on a door, “I had your things moved into your room. Your mother explained it was her fault that you were late this morning.”
Merlin gulped and secretly thanked his mum for helping him out, even from afar.
Then the door opened and Merlin stopped thinking he was the luckiest boy on the planet.
On the other side of it was standing his morning run-in, the monumental git. This couldn't be true, could it?
“Him?” the Pendragon git said. “There's no way I can be sharing with him.”
Mr Smith coughed as though not pleased to hear Arthur's words.
The Pendragon git made way for them to slip into the room, but Merlin could see he wasn't too happy about it.
“I thought that after Severn-” Arthur began, only to be interrupted.
Mr Smith didn't sound too gentle when he said, “Mr Pendragon, I'm not used to brooking objections from 16-year-olds. Mr Emrys here is your age, shares two of your chosen A-levels subjects. It was thought best that you show him around.”
“I—” Pendragon made another attempt at protesting against Merlin's presence.
Even Merlin would have liked to say that he'd rather sleep in the broom cupboard, in true Harry Potter fashion, than have to share for a whole year with Pendragon, who was just one of the most arrogant toffs Merlin had ever had the displeasure to meet, but he kept that to himself.
“It's been decided,” Mr Smith said. “I see there's some animosity between you two. I suggest you settle whatever it is amicably. None but the best behaviour will be accepted.”
Pendragon straightened. He was in shirt-sleeves and his shirt was free of his charcoal trousers. His shirt was unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up to show powerful forearms. When he threw back his shoulders, in a pose that seemed military to Merlin, his chest muscles showed, thus underlining how Pendragon was an awesomely fit specimen of the British upper classes. The perfect Wakefield boy.
“Yes, Sir," he said.
Merlin was waiting for the military salute. He scoffed a little.
Both Mr Smith and Pendragon glared at him, so Merlin, slouching, said, “I'm sure we'll get along.”
“Very well,” said Mr Smith. “Mr Emrys, you'll have to report to me every four hours when not in class or after lock-down.”
Oh, the gating. They didn't forget their punishments here, did they?
Pendragon darted a look at him Merlin couldn't read.
Merlin just put on a brave face, remembered his mum and Uncle Gaius' sacrifices and said, “Yes, sir.”
“I'll leave you to it, then,” Mr Smith said.
He then proceeded to turn around and go.
When they were left alone, Merlin winced, preparing for anything.
“That's your bed, your desk and your PC,” Pendragon said, drily, gesturing at the aforementioned items. “Don't touch my things. Don't put your nose where it doesn't belong. Don't move my papers. Don't talk to me when you're not addressed and I'll try to countenance you.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Merlin said.
He either poked fun at this self-assured, hyper confident guy, or he'd have to run back home screaming.
Pendragon flashed him a strange look, one Merlin had no idea how to interpret. His lips twitched, but Merlin wasn't sure whether Pendragon had been about to give him some sort of small smile or if he'd been about to be treated to a full lip down turn.
Merlin sat on the bed.
“No bedside lamps switched on at night, no getting up at four to go to the loo,” Pendragon ticked items off his list of possible offences as if he was a general.
Merlin couldn't help but tease. “Really, not even if I have to? I'm sure you'd prefer it if I—”
The scowl cut Merlin short.
“Now, if you don't mind,” Arthur drawled in that posh boy tone Merlin could already recognise (and mimic). “I was studying history.”
So saying, he turned his chair around, gave Merlin his shoulders, flopped down and became silent.
And a silent, interminable long evening was what Merlin was treated to on his first Wakefield day.
Elyan and Geraint were marked.
Arthur was free.
Leon passed him the ball and Arthur felt he was in a perfect position to score. Focused to the max, Arthur stopped the ball with his chest and let it slide down to his foot. He rested it on top of the ball to get time to assess his relative position to the net and the rival defenders, then he turned, dribbled the ball around one player, juggling it with his feet, and then between two others and finally into the penalty area.
Arthur felt giddy with the responsibility, heartbeat ringing in his ears. A steady thump, thump, thump.
The shot was set.
He stopped for a second, gauged distances and kicked with his right shoe tip before one of the rival defenders could steal his thunder.
The goalie dove, trying for a desperate save, but the ball looped into the net.
Coach Simpson whistled, marking the end of the match.
Incredulous, Arthur sank onto his knees, looking up at the overcast sky. They'd won. He'd scored the winning goal!
"Way to go!" shouted Leon, running over to him.
Some of his mates, who were standing staring from the sideline, cheered him loudly, clapping and shouting, “Go, Pendragon, go.”
His team-mates leaped upon him, a veritable human pile.
They clapped him on the back, ruffled his hair, grabbing at his shirt and lifting it over his head. One kissed his hair. He received plenty of celebration hugs; there were arms wrapped around his neck, friendly, a little stifling.
His team-mates were wild with joy and Arthur was happy, joyful and flustered at being so touched.
He craved more, more recognition, more praise, more of those hands on him. Just hands on him.
The Pendragons were not a touchy feely lot. And Arthur was longing for some form of, he guessed, acknowledgment.
He sobered up, grinned, danced away, said, “Of course we won. I'm a champ.”
Elyan laughed; Leon, who'd known him from prep school said, “Dream away, Pendragon.”
Arthur made it to the showers muddied, elated and happy, knowing that nothing could destroy his happiness today, not even the pang of longing he sometimes felt towards those naked bodies he caught a glimpse of in the showers or changing rooms. He'd never fancied a friend: it wasn't that. It was just the proximity and the blatant nakedness. (Not that you didn't get used to it after years spent surrounded by other guys, but sometimes, just sometimes he wished he could do something about it.)
Tilting his head back under the shower head, he closed his eyes and lathered his head. Yeah, it was a good day, no reason to fuck it up because of stupid things that would go away. Like those urges. One day in the not so distant future he'd be out of school and free to say and do things that would make some of his friends feel awkward now. He knew that; he was aware. He'd taken a look at the lot of Morgana's friends and knew that uni was freedom. He'd need to be all business till he graduated.
Just enjoy the day, he told himself.
Arthur came back from football practice, tired, sore and hungry. As a rule he was always beastly hungry but after sports he felt as though he could devour a bear. He marched into the common room even though he knew he'd find his annoyingly cheerful roomie there.
He did anyway because he needed to find something to gnaw on or he'd feel his stomach roiling before supper. And the common room did boast of an electric tea kettle, and some form of snack was usually available.
When he marched in, he found a group of ten boys, although the word group was perhaps erroneous since the year tens were huddled in the cold, draughty corner near the window while the boys from the lower and upper sixth held onto the places near the fireplace, filling the room.
Emrys was the odd one out, straddling a corner bench, head in his books.
One of the first things you learnt in boarding school was that there was a pecking order.
You didn't get cheeky with the older boys till it was your turn to be the one to do the ribbing, you always respected the unspoken rules that presided over this not so secret hierarchy and, if you were new, you tried to ingratiate yourself.
Merlin wasn't paying heed to this unspoken set of rules and since he was new and different - different accent, way of wearing the uniform, even brand of humour - he was bound to attract some attention from the other house-members.
Sports bag laid down, Arthur was busying himself with the tea kettle when he heard the question.
“So, Emrys, tell us something about yourself!”
Arthur pushed the on button that set the kettle to rumble.
Merlin, Arthur could see out of the corner of his eyes, lifted his head and botched a friendly expression.
“Not much to say,” he mumbled and buried his nose in his homework again.
The kettle rumble became louder, water preparing to boil.
Vestey, who was actually a viscount and went by the nickname Wes, rose to his feet and walked up to Merlin, hands behind his back. “Stop studying,” he said.
Arthur put the teabag in a clean mug.
“Er, no,” said Merlin stiffly.
Arthur sensed Merlin was about to say something stupid, something in retaliation, something that would put him on Vestey's black book for a long, long time.
Percy took over from Vestey. “Come on. It's dull, Emrys. Tell us what you've done with girls.”
Vestey added, “Because you've done things with girls, haven't you, Emrys?”
Arthur threw the used teabag in the rubbish bin and stole a Swiss roll from a tray.
“You'd better answer them,” said Lancelot. “Or they'll make your life hell.”
Vestey said, “Don't listen to him, Emrys. Du Lac here goes out with our House Master's daughter and yet he swears they'll wait for marriage. Boo.”
Merlin didn't reply, which was wise.
“But you should tell us everything,” said Vestey. “To pass.”
Arthur sipped at his tea.
“Our House Test.”
Merlin darted a glance at Lance, who shrugged his shoulders as if to say he'd gone through that himself and survived.
Arthur wasn't sure Emrys would fare the same way as Lance had. Lance excelled at sports, passed on his notes and let people copy his homework for free.
And they all knew he'd had a girlfriend before Gwen, and that he hadn't been so chaste back then. Besides, he was in the upper sixth and would soon leave Wakefield for uni.
“And you need to know about that because?” asked Merlin.
“Initiation ritual,” said Vestey. “Very important.”
Merlin was clearly perplexed. “It's not the kind of—”
“Are you a prude?” Vestey asked. “Come on, tell us what you've done. Have you got a girlfriend stashed back home in your tiny village?”
“I did,” said Merlin, closing his book.
Arthur was surprised. He'd reckoned that Merlin, who was clumsy, not too in your face and rather shy (unless he perceived himself to be abused), wouldn't have had a girlfriend, but instead, unless he was lying to look good, he had.
Cenred King sauntered over to Merlin as well. “A girlfriend, huh?” he asked. “And what have you managed to do with her? Kissed her cheek?”
The three year tens in the room started laughing. They were trying to back up the older guys in the hopes not to be bullied in future.
Apart from their laughter there was silence in the room.
Cenred made a gesture as if to tell the younger boys they'd done enough to show their support. Then he asked: “Okay, I'll assume that you've managed to get that far. Even young Gilli there has, or so he says. Did she ever give you a hand-job, wrap her hands around your prick, uh, Merlin? Did you grind against her when she was all wet? Did you get laid?”
Arthur, who'd been looking at the blank wall opposite, felt himself flush. All of a sudden he was picturing exactly how that would be. Merlin's long fingers, graceful hands, pleasuring a girl, making her gasp, sinking into moist heat.
Arthur imagined how he'd look naked, how his cock would look and stopped himself, because he'd never fantasised about a boy from school, never.
This must be a football-match endorphins induced thing. It had to be. His room-mate. No way.
As Arthur gulped down the rest of his tea, Merlin shot up and said, “You know what? I'm not having this. You want to write my name down on the uncool people list? You want to bully me? That's okay,” he said, walking up to Cenred and Vestey. “I can take it. Besides, all your interest in me sounds rather homoerotic. Word ring a bell or is it too complicated for you?”
Cenred and Vestey, who prided themselves in being men's men, in picking up the St Mary's girls and discarding them, were left stammering.
Before they could react physically, Merlin had decamped, likely seeking the harbour of their room.
Arthur suppressed a smile.
“What are you laughing at, Pendragon,” Cenred asked, seeking a quarrel.
Arthur smirked. “Don't tell me you didn't see that one coming.”
Despite being hungry, he left the common room to go and join Merlin. He didn't even know why since thus far he'd sort of avoided him.
That day, Merlin had passed the test that would allow him to be a member of the swimming team. He was quite proud of himself for this achievement, for he hadn't always been the sportiest person to have ever lived. He was tired now; his muscles ached and his hair was still wet and curling a little at the nape.
It was six in the afternoon and he wanted nothing better than to run back to his quarters and sink onto his bed; he'd study there, braving Arthur's presence.
In the last two weeks of their shared cohabitation, Arthur had proved to be both easier and more difficult to get along with than Merlin had first predicted.
In a way, everything was easier because Arthur wasn't threatening him or bullying him, or anything of the sort, but he was reserved and silent (though Merlin had found out he was loud and boisterous enough with his closest friends.)
The silences made cohabitation trickier. And they were only interrupted when Arthur looked up from his books, or his net surfing, (headphones on) and said things like, “Take my socks and shirts to the matron along with yours.”
That time Merlin had retorted, “I'm a scholarship boy; not your bloody servant.” Then he'd shot up, bowed, looked up and shot forth his cheekiest, “My lord.”
Arthur had thrown a balled up sheet of paper at him. “Idiot,” he'd said. “Look at this room! It was spotless before you came along. I invite you to take in this room, that pile of clothing over there, and that lump of socks over there, and tell me that living in this state is pleasant.”
“There're a couple of yours in there as well.”
Arthur had continued, “I invite you to do that and not offer to at least re-establish the status quo ante.”
Merlin had snorted, but had seen that Arthur had a point. He'd therefore sunk on his knees in order to retrieve Amorphous Lump of Socks number two.
This done, he'd made to look under Arthur's bed for any stray piece of clothing, when Arthur had shouted, “Not under the bed!” He was blushing and looking a solemn mix of constipated and ashamed.
Merlin had grinned from ear to ear. “What? The mighty Arthur has porn under there?”
“Don’t you dare look,” Arthur had said, rising from his chair and pinning Merlin with a glare.
Merlin had made as if to dive under the bed all the same. He was just teasing. But abruptly Arthur had tackled him to the floor as only a rugby player could, straddling Merlin's legs, pinning Merlin's hands over his head.
Giggling, Merlin had bit his lip and said, “Never,” in a very dramatic way.
“There's porn under there, isn't there?”
Arthur had bent over him then and done something a little strange. He'd let go of Merlin's hands, grabbed at his shirt, rucking it up in a way that Arthur himself must not have liked because he was a little anal about things like ironed shirts, and sniffed his neck, nose tickling Merlin.
Merlin had swallowed, feeling Arthur's weight and warmth. He'd supposed this was the Wakefield boy way of rough-housing a little, but Arthur wasn't moving, nose still practically buried in Merlin's throat.
And Merlin hadn't known what to do with his hands, so he'd settled one timidly at Arthur's waist and gulped again.
Arthur had murmured in his ear, “My bed is off-limits to you, Merlin. Is that clear?”
Merlin had made a nodding motion.
Still very much in Merlin's lap, Arthur had sat up, ruffled Merlin's hair in a rough way, and vaulted off him.
So Merlin was now confused; he didn't know if he and Arthur were friends or not; mostly because Arthur was the type to blow hot and cold. He could be all stiff and proud and a tad arrogant as on the first day they'd met, or he'd laugh at Merlin's old jumpers, the ones he used in bed because Merlin hated being cold, or at the faces he pulled when he read something funny, and then he'd be great company. He'd go, “Merlin, Merlin, Merlin.” And Merlin would feel some kind of warmth in response.
Since Merlin didn't know how to deal with this Arthur, he'd taken to avoiding their room during the day hours.
But now it was evening and Merlin felt battered because of the try outs. He didn't even want dinner.
He wanted to sleep. Blessedly. For hours. This school and its fixation on outdoor activities were killing him.
When he opened the door to his room, he was relieved to find it empty. He just threw his duffel in a corner, sure Arthur would complain about that, shucked off his uniform without caring about creasing it and slipped between the sheets. A nap, he just needed a nap.
He must have fallen deeply asleep, because the next thing he knew was that he was being whisked away from a nice dream involving his return home and Will and Freya, when he blinked his eyes open to find that his bed had been upended and that he'd been hog tied to it.
“What's going on?” he shouted at the three guys, two of whom were certainly Vestey and Valiant, who were trashing his things while taking care to leave Arthur's intact.
Merlin tried to free himself and shout some more. He didn't actually manage the first part because they'd tied him well, but he made it up for it by way of going on a verbal rampage, “You think this is funny! That's a measure of how monumentally screwed-up you all are. Spoilt, spoilt dunderheads!”
But they were ripping his notes, upending the rubbish bin, pouring some kind of gluey liquid in his socks and school bag and, “Oi, that's my tie. You can't shred my tie.” Merlin didn't have the funds to replace it. As he tried to free himself, he was also busy devising ways to retaliate. He was just tied up at the moment. Literally.
That was the moment Arthur chose to enter. “What the hell?” he asked in that posh voice of his.
“Your idiot friends are behaving like toddlers.”
Arthur switched on the light and said, “Okay, initiation's over. This is my room too and I have to live here.”
Valiant and his helper, a red-haired boy Merlin had occasionally seen flitting in and out of the common room, stopped dead in their tracks.
Valiant said, “No one's in without it.”
“I don't give a rat's ass about that,” Arthur said. “Fuck off and leave him alone.”
Vestey said, “Grown soft, Pendragon?”
Arthur walked up to Vestey. It looked kind of like a face-off. “Untie him and get out.”
“Pendragon, are you messing with tradition?” Vestey mocked.
Arthur squared his shoulders, assumed a commanding air, and flashed both Vestey and Valiant a threatening look. “Bugger off this instant,” he said. “This is my room.”
The red-haired boy scarpered off to safety.
Valiant called out, “Coward.”
Arthur slammed Valiant against the desk, encroaching on his space. “Out,” he growled.
Valiant nodded; Vestey said, “Becoming a loser, Pendragon?” And yet for all the taunting they went.
When Merlin and Arthur were alone, Merlin, said. “Very impressive, but you could have had them untie me.”
“Never happy,” Arthur said, and smiled at him.
Merlin found this so strange he couldn't find the words to reply. Instead he waited for Arthur to search his drawer for something to cut the rope with. Apparently Arthur possessed a Swiss knife; brandishing it, he pulled a very goofy face and levered out the blade.
“Boy scout?” Merlin guessed. “No, no,” he added, laughing. “Sorry, had it wrong. Slasher film fan. Oh god, I'm sharing with Freddy Kruger.”
Arthur moved towards him and set to cutting the rope. He was shaking his head, laughing under his breath. “Shut up, Merlin.”
“Don't giggle; you'll cut me,” said Merlin.
Very seriously, Arthur replied, “I won't.”
“Ah, ah,” Arthur said.
Arthur and Merlin shared two subjects: AS Maths and History. While Maths and Economics were choices mostly dictated by Arthur's thinking of his future prospects which involved working for father, Geography and History had been Arthur's own choice. Arthur had loved Geography ever since Shell year.
History was proving to be more difficult. He wasn't good at sifting through the primary and secondary sources thing he was supposed to be capable of doing, and he wasn't too good at discussions either.
The analysing of statistics part came definitely easier to him. But maybe that was why Arthur had better marks in maths.
Professor Nimueh Lake was erasing the board and writing in big letters the words, “The Massacre of Verden,” while most of the class failed to pay attention. Then she turned around and asked, “Why did Charlemagne order the death of Saxons? What did he think he would accomplish by that?”
She glanced at all the students and asked, “Arthur?”
Professor Lake always picked him as if she knew this was his weak subject. “Power politics?” he hazarded.
Professor Lake hummed. “That is not wrong, but what other elements were involved? Elyan?” she asked.
“It stopped a long war.”
Professor Lake agreed. “Indeed. He'd felled in one stroke the Saxon leadership.”
“Vestey,” she said, annoyed, “do you have anything to contribute to this discussion or are you opening your mouth just to air it out?”
“Nope,” said Vestey, sprawling in his seat.
While Vestey and Professor Lake had a showdown — which always happened — the boy sitting behind Arthur nudged him. Arthur turned and saw that the boy meant to pass him a scrap of note paper. Nonplussed, Arthur took it, unfolded it and read the words scrawled upon it. “Alliance with the church. Unite Saxony under Charlemagne's rule and the Christian Religion. 800.”
The handwriting was Merlin's.
Arthur cocked his head and looked at Merlin who was looking back full of mischief. He mimed a, “Thanks,” and looked down so as not to be spotted by Professor Lake.
And when she was ready to subject him to another volley of questions, Arthur answered them. Capping it all by saying, “And the alliance with the church was vital to Charlemagne and his rule system. He was crowned emperor by the Pope in the year 800.”
Professor Lake seemed impressed. “Very good, Mr Pendragon. It's clear you've delved into the subject.”
This was the best thing Professor Lake had told him since his GCSEs. It carried him through the lesson and when the bell rang, he knew what he had to do.
Merlin was sailing past his seat, and Arthur just grabbed him and said, “Merlin?”
“Thanks for the save there; I guess I—” Thanking people wasn't as easy as others made it look. Not for Arthur. But he owed his little success to Merlin, so he barreled on. “I wouldn't have been able to answer that question without your note passing.”
Merlin's eyes twinkled. “Nah,” he said. “You said things I didn't write down. It was a nudge. Consider it a present from the lower classes.” And then Merlin went.
Arthur was oddly grateful.