Pairing/s: Pre Merlin/Gwaine
Summary: Gwaine's modelling career isn't what it once was. He reluctantly lets his manager sign him up for the popular TV reality show 'The Ballroom Blitz'
Warnings: Some innuendo.
Word Count: ~3200
Author's Notes: Aeris!! I was so sure it had to be you! It was prompt #1 that gave you away. I went with prompt #2, tweaking it a bit as I am not too familiar with the British version of the show. ...or the Norwegian one either to be honest. Hope you like it. Thanks a million to phalanges_d for excellent beta work. I owe you one, hun! All remaining errors and additionally added additions are on me. (Edit: Arrrgghhh... maybe this time things will look like they are supposed to!)
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Gwaine blinked at the sheet of paper, once again checking the logo and skimming through the text. Yes, indeed, it did say: “CBC's The Ballroom Blitz”, commonly known as Camelot Broadcast's hit reality show. He had accepted its authenticity a moment earlier, now he was questioning part two of his manager's statement.
“You really think I should accept?” He said, watching his manager closely, still half expecting the man's face would crack in a huge smile and reveal it was all a practical joke. He tucked his dressing gown closer around himself, he'd be pretty mad if he was spending his break from the photo shoot on being pranked by his manager.
“Absolutely!” His manager exclaimed bightly, grabbing Gwaine by the shoulders like he was hoping to shake some sense into the man. “Everybody will know your name!”
“My name will be 'Ballroom Blitz-Gwaine”, Gwains said, not feeling too happy about the way that sounded.
“Surely, that is better than ‘Dude-on-the-billboards-three-years-ago’
Gwaine tried to ignore the meaningful stare the manager gave him. It was all too true. He wasn't twentytwo anymore, younger men were taking over.
“Alright, but... I don't know anything about ballroom dancing.”
“Exactly! Not knowing about danving is what the show is all about.” The manager released his grip on Gwaine's shoulders, pleased that he had agreed without too much pursuation.
“I'll take care of everything. You get back to your phot set and earn us some money.”
Gwaine watched the man hurry away, and considered running after him and take it all back. But the photo-shoot wasn't done and the crew hovered in the background, trying to get him back to the now rearranged set.
He gave the camera a sideways look, running his hand through his trademark fabulous hair. He was trying his best to look relaxed and at home wearing nothing but a tight boxer and a blazer. He and Monique, the hit girl of the month, were hanging around casually in their underwear in the garage, apparently. It made even less sense then the previous office setting.
Perhaps dancing wouldn't be so bad.
It was bad. Or rather it is was hard. Each so-called celebrity, was paired up with a professional dancer who would be their dance partner and teach them choreography. They would perform every Saturday on live TV, and there would be a new theme every week. This meant that they would have a limited amount of time to practice for every show.
Gwaine's partner was Elena Gawant. Like most of the pros, she had been with the show from the start. She was as cheerful and sweet as she was tough and efficient. Gwaine knew how to play a role and he had a lot of charm, so at least that part was easy. He also had the benefit of being fit, with good core muscles for both stability and flexibility. Heaven knows he found himself in very peculiar positions at times, modelling wasn't as easy as people often assumed. Here however, the results wouldn't be edited to glossy perfection later. There would be no retakes. Had he first messed up a step, or not portrayed himself correctly on stage, then that was it. The cameras, the jury and audience were watching. It was different, difficult, and he loved it.
His playlist favorites changed, he hummed Michal Bublé tunes in the shower and had nightmares where the jury made him polish twenty pairs of high shine shoes. Week after week passed, filled with fierce competition, practice and, surprisingly, fun times socializing with the other contestants. It was good to be reminded that this was meant to be a game and not a war. However, the competition kept thinning them out. Conversations grew a bit strained with four pairs remaining and the upcoming semifinals looming over their heads.
The first semifinalist to take the stage was Percival Large with pro dancer Morgause Lefey. He was mostly known by the name ZtoneCrusher in the black metal band the Dorocha. He had also played a few roles in various B-movies and TV-series, mainly muscular background characters like Werewolf number 3 and Zombie Quarterback. Percival was a surprisingly sweet and kind man without all that makeup and the heavy leather coats.
Gwaine didn't think Percy and Morgause would last the next round as they had been saved by the bell three times already. But then he stood at the sideline and watched as Percival and Morgause LeFay Wiener waltzed the crap out of everybody in a stunning Beauty and the Beast performance. This was a clear reply to Gwaine and Elena's flirtation with the movie Dirty Dancing the previous week. Gwaine picked up his jaw from the floor and snuck back to the dressing room to get ready.
Guinevere 'Gwen' Thomas and Arthur Pendragon were next. Before this, Arthur was often brought in as a political analyst and commentator in newspapers and various other medias. His father, Uther Pendragon, was climbing ranks in Parliament, so Arthur had stepped out of the political debates for a while and into a red sparkling suit, and he looked good doing it, curse him. Gwaine hadn't gotten along with Arthur at first. Gwaine thought he was uptight and snobby and called him Princess every chance he got. The nickname didn't hold as much disdain now as it had then.
Gwen had softened him up quite a bit during these weeks. One could always tell where one stood with her, as she was sure to let you know if you were stepping on any toes, be they real or metaphorical ones. Gwaine didn't need to watch them to know that the pair might not be the biggest on storytelling, but they would waltz flawlessly and look downright regal while doing it.
Gwaine and Elena's dance was a nod to the media coverage and the social media chatter.
Gwaine played a caricatured version of himself as the as the dashing cool celeb, while Elena played his swooning fan. Among the already complicated steps, Elena had added no less than ten pretend falls, which Gwaine had to catch seemingly in the last second and act like he was saving damsels all day long without breaking a sweat. The dance would end with a final fake fall, turning into a dramatic end pose.
But something went terribly wrong. He looked down his arm which was holding on to Elena's in a way it wasn't meant to. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl to thoroughly rub in how twisted her arm was. The eyes that were supposed look up at him with a big, practiced smile had instead morphed into a look of horror. Chills ran down his spine. He had hurt Elena.
The planned end pose is abandoned without thought and somehow he gets her up on her feet. She expertly adapts into the new end pose, standing instead of hanging, showing once again how tough she really is. Cramped, fake smiles are plastered on, desperately trying to not further mess up a nearly perfect round.
The roar of applause replaces the music as it normally does. But there is some muttering amongst it, because they know, they saw. How could they not? This is merely salvaging what is left to salvage.
The nerve wrecking slow torture of feedback and scores from the jury pass in a haze. After the duty run of a brief chat with the show hosts, Elena is swept away for a medical check. Both a member of the medical crew and one of the hosts asks if Gwaine wants to talk to someone, but it's not like he is the injured one, so he brushes them off. He should have retreated to change into something less sweaty, but instead he stayed to watch the final performance. There was a hint of bitter irony in this. Gwaine felt like an unintentional suspense build up. Everybody and their dog knew that the sweet song bird Freya Waters had sprained her ankle during rehearsals. The media was all over it. What would they do? Cancel? Fail? Was is all a rouse? Naturally, they had been moved to the final minutes to keep the suspense.
Freya and her partner Merlin Emrys made a great team. Right after Gwaine, Merlin was the main joker of the group. He always had a comment ready to break tension and sooth nerves. He had even convinced Freya and Percival to do a duet, which had been hysterical.
He tried to give the pair a polite nod, despite his gloomy mood. The usually bubbly singer/songwriter wasn't chirping and chatting as she normally did. Merlin was glued to her side, staying even closer than usual. He did offer a cautious, and maybe even sympathetic, half smile in return to Gwaine.
This only added to Gwaine's uneasy feeling. During the last weeks, Merlin had started to grin and a wink at him before performances, a wink which seemed to say 'I'll eat you alive'. Freya would look from one of the men and to the other and giggle, clearly siding 100% with her partner. Elena would pretend to shoo them away, saying Merlin was trying to distract her partner and Freya needed to reel him in. It was all in good fun, Gwaine just wished he didn't like it as much as he did.
Out there on the stage, Freya spun and twirled like she was born to fly, but all of Merlin's valiant efforts couldn't hide that her injury was holding her back. It was the most moving thing Gwaine had seen. Perhaps Elena's injury had left him a bit raw. But he could almost feel Merlin's need to carry his partner through it all. Her feet wouldn't have touched the ground if he had his will. Merlin kept his eyes on her, smiling gently and wordlessly encouraging her.
They didn't complete the dance.
The audience buzzed with gasps and shock at the abrupt ending and applauded like crazy when Freya limped off stage. Even the toughest of the jury members had to wipe her eyes.
Merlin and Freya were the ones to leave that day. Gwaine knew he would miss them.
It took several hours before Gwaine saw Elena again.
Usually, they would have started to plan their next dance right away, while still a bit high from their performance and eager to correct their mistakes. Instead, Gwaine holed up in his hotel room and did stupid things like wallowing in Twitter posts and news articles about the show, especially from the first round where they were all pretty much useless.
He avoided replying to any posts or anything like that. They weren't supposed to talk to the media anyway. He even ventured into the murky waters of fanfic. It was no big secret that he was gay, so he was a bit curious to why people “shipped” him and Elena. He skimmed through a few summaries, winced at the various pairings and decided to never look this that up again. Real people fiction had very little to do with reality it seemed. Not unlike some of the 'serious journalism' he had come across. He started to watch older clips of the pro dancers instead. Maybe his focus slipped from Elena to Merlin at some point, but that was purely to study technique, nothing more.
He jumped a bit when his phone buzzed. It was the executives, calling them all in for a briefing. Elena was already there when he arrived. She had her arm in a sling, but smiled and gave Gwaine a pat on the arm, like he was the one who needed to be comforted.
The exectives started to drone on about what the doctor had had said about Elena's shoulder. Elena had been ordered to take it easy for a few weeks, meaning their dancing days together were over. The Chiefs wanted to keep this away from the media until the had gotten a second opinion from another doctor.
But Elena shook her head and leaned closer to Gwaine.
“I'm sorry, Gwaine, only way I can dance is River dance style with my arm strapped to my chest, so unless you dig deep into your Irish roots and find you inner Lord of the Dance I do believe we're toast either way.”
Gwaine snorted out a laugh, earning dark glares from the executives.
“But,” Elena continued with far too much glee for an injured person, “I met a certain little bird on crutches, I shall not mention any names, and she told me they are working on a plan B for you, and it is a brilliant idea and I hope to God they will go for it because it will be the best thing ever.”
She grinned and looked like she was about to squeal with excitement. Gwaine wondered briefly what type of medication she was on.
A few hours later he also wondered if she had shared those meds with others. Because it turned out, Gwaine would dance in the finals after all, with a new partner.
Early the next morning he showed up at the studio, just like he had all those days before. He paused at the door, adjusted his grip on his bag and tried to prepare himself for what he would meet inside. He pictured the tightest suit he had seen on YouTube, the one from the Flamenco number in 2014. It couldn't get more distracting that that.
Merlin looked up from his phone when he entered. Bright blue eyes and a cautious optimistic smile made Gwaine feel like a newbie all over again. Merlin instantly started talking about the finals.
It felt like the first session with Elena all over again, all awkward moves and misplaced feet. He didn't know where to put his hands, they couldn't settle on who should lead and Gwaine was wondering what not leading would mean.
“Alright, stop for moment”, Merlin said. “We're a bit all over the place here.”
Merlin suddenly let go of Gwaine and moved over to kill the music.
Gwaine was left standing alone on the floor, now feeling abandoned as well as a lost. Merlin scrunched his face up while scrolling through his phone and muttering to himself. Gwaine stretched his arms and rolled his neck, mainly to have something to go. Merlin's tapping and scrolling came to an end. A slow waltz filled the room. He returned to the floor and into Gwaine's personal space again.
“I put the playlist of shuffle mode, so we don't know what's coming and we'll have to deal with what comes our way when it does.”
Gwaine hummed in affirmation. Merlin grabbed hold of him and let Gwaine lead in a very basic waltz. It felt nice to have Merlin move with him rather than against him.
“You don't have to go through with this you know.” Merlin's voice was calm. Gwaine smiled briefly as he recognized the tone as Merlin's peace keeping voice. He always thought it would work wonders with crying children and frightened animals. “They won't release the news until tomorrow, and they have backup plans. They can always run final with the rest of the dancers and no harm done. So, you can back out at any time if this doesn't sit right with you.”
“No, I don't want out. I... ” Gwaine didn’t finish the sentence as he needed a pause to gather his thoughts into words.
He had talked to his manager for half an hour yesterday, trying to figure out the pros and cons of finishing the competition with a male partner. The media storm would be massive and a lot wouldn't be pleasant, but he wasn't afraid of that. The awkwardness now wasn't about that. It was the suddenness of having Merlin this close rather than at safe distance.
“I mean, dancing with Elena was different. Obviously. Dancing this close with a... nice guy is... usually a club thing. This is new.”
“Worlds colliding?” Merlin smiled softly, his arm a warm weight around Gwaine's waist.
Gwaine had to chuckle at his own expense.
“Something like that.”
“We'll figure it out. And we'll give them a show they won't soon forget.”
Gwaine laughed, he never quite knew if Merlin meant to be lewd, but it was good to see that devilish spark in his eyes again.
Feet shifted and Merlin took the lead. A few minutes later and Gwaine felt more at ease.
“I was thinking,” Merlin said, “That we have a lot of options, but we have to find something that is right for us. We could go wildly flamboyant. Dress up with feathers and glitter, maybe a rhumba. Or we can go old school British gentlemen, top hat and tuxedos.”
“Yeah... We would make the prissy Princess Arthur seem like a backyard cat.”
Merlin chuckled at Gwaine's motivation.
“Or we could continue like this”, Merlin suggested, “Taking turns leading, the jury will love that, showing them we can switch.”
Gwaine felt hot under the collar.
“...And we'll make it a tango. A spicy Argentinian.”
“Oh, now I see. You've been planning the tango all along, haven't you? You're quite sneaky.”
“I prefer to be called inspirational.” Merlin grinned, not bothering to deny it. “I've been wanting to dance with you for some time now. I have pitched the idea of same-sex dancing several times and gotten nowhere. Now the CBC can make it a one off and see how the public responds. And you have to learn how to dip.”
Gwaine huffed. “I dip just fine. Haven't you been watching?”
“Oh, I've been watching alright. I'll be dipping you as well.”
Gwaine laughed and shook his head. He claimed the lead again, earning a pleased grin from Merlin.
- - -
Monday morning CBC Entertainment sent out a small press release. Freya, Merlin, Gwaine and Elena smiled brightly on the published press photos taken earlier for the occasion. Elena with her sling on the right, Freya and her crutches on the left and Merlin and Gwaine in the middle.
The PR manager calmly recited the list of reasons for the broadcast's decision and announced that Merlin and Gwaine would be the first same-sex couple in the history of The Ballroom Blitz and they would be dancing in the final.
Then they sat back and waited for the internet to explode.
Perhaps Gwiane and Merlin wouldn't get more than this one dance in the lime light, but it would be worth it. This would be different, difficult, and Gwaine knew he'd love it.