Title: We Need to Talk About Merlin [Part 3]
Rating: PG-13 [this part]
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Merlin/Edwin, Edwin/Sophia
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Morgana, Gwaine, Edwin, Sophia
Summary: Merlin has a new boyfriend. Morgana doesn't like him. Somehow, Arthur winds up stuck in the middle.
[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | AO3 | Merlocked18's Art | Sequel ]
Warnings: Deals with cheating/infidelity.
Word Count: ~1400 words. Eep. Sorry.
Prompt: #250 Pick-Up Lines.
Author's Notes: I ran out of time/energy to edit this, so please forgive its length and somewhat unpolished state, lol. In the meantime, many thanks to dhampir1508 for providing impromptu beta assistance. Any remaining issues/errors are my own and will no doubt be corrected eventually...
Arthur makes it through two more songs, and three more glasses of champagne before he realises he’s doing exactly what he swore to himself he wouldn’t do tonight — staring at his best friend’s arse. And moping. Let’s not forget the moping.
“Get it together, Pendragon,” he mutters, rubbing his forehead. Morgana has long since abandoned him for her own date, a leggy blonde woman with stilettos so sharp they could double as weapons at a murder scene, but a passing waiter gives him a sidelong glance in any case, and Arthur flushes. Right. Now he’s pathetic, and crazy.
The truth is, it would be a lot easier to stop feeling sorry for himself if Merlin were out there looking put-upon, instead of grinning up at Gwaine as though he were God’s gift to office assistants everywhere. Arthur has nothing against Gwaine, per se. Aside from the fact that he’s a partner at his own law firm instead of working for his father and has absolutely no sense of propriety, he seems like a decent enough bloke. Right at this moment, however, there’s something about him that rubs Arthur the wrong way; a persistent, aggravating quality which makes him want to plant his fist right in the middle of Gwaine’s irritatingly perfect face.
It probably has something to do with the fact that he has his hands all over Merlin.
Grimacing, Arthur selects a random spot on the parquet floor to glare at until the music stops, at which point he decides it’s safe to look up. Across the ballroom, Gwaine is leading Merlin off to the side, where they have a brief conversation before he departs in the direction of the buffet table. Merlin remains standing alone, angled slightly away from Arthur so he can’t see his face, and Arthur comes to a sudden decision. Possibly it’s because he’s just drowned his last ounce of self-preservation in alcohol, but he can’t bring himself to pass up an opportunity like this, even if it does interfere with Morgana’s best laid plans.
Setting his empty glass down, Arthur straightens his shoulders and crosses the room to Merlin’s side. “Excuse me,” he says in his ear, doing his best Zaphod Beeblebrox impression. “Do you want to see my spaceship?”
Merlin startles, then grins when he sees who has crept up on him. “Arthur! Hey. Were you dancing?”
“No, just figured I’d say hi.” He shrugs, attempting to sound casual. “Are you having fun?”
“Yeah, Gwaine is…” Merlin makes a vague gesture. “Nice. Funny.” He frowns. “Very shiny hair.”
“Sounds fascinating,” Arthur says drily. “I take it the two of you hit it off, then.”
Merlin skewers him with a raised eyebrow, something Arthur knows for a fact he has learned from his Uncle Gaius. “He’s not my type.”
“Oh.” It may be possible that Gwaine has some redeeming qualities after all. “Well, he is rich, smart, and stunningly gorgeous. I can see how that wouldn’t appeal.”
“Fuck off,” Merlin says, good-naturedly. “If you’re so keen, why don’t you ask him out?”
“That would be like sleeping with the enemy,” Arthur says loftily. “Also, we tried it once; he snores. So.” He glances down at his hands and thinks, fuck it. In for a penny. “What is your type, then?”
Interestingly, Merlin colours. “You know I like blonds.”
“Well, in that case.” Before he can lose his nerve, Arthur holds out a hand. “Dance with me?”
Merlin hesitates, and Arthur experiences a moment of burgeoning embarrassment before he nods and gives a self-deprecating little smile. “Sure, why not?”
He takes Arthur’s hand, and Arthur leads him out onto the dance floor, hoping Merlin can’t tell how badly his palms are sweating. The musicians strike up a slow song, and the two of them eye one another for a moment before Merlin shrugs and steps into position, letting Arthur take the lead.
“You know, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your pick-up lines could use a little work,” Merlin informs him, once he’s settled comfortably into Arthur’s arms. The last time they’d danced together had been at graduation — an entirely different sort of party — but nevertheless it feels so familiar and so right that Arthur has to swallow back a sudden pang of champagne-induced nostalgia.
“There’s nothing wrong with my pick-up lines,” he replies, after a pause that lasts just a beat too long. “They just don’t work on you.”
Merlin laughs. “Are you suggesting I’m immune to prats?”
“Maybe.” Unfortunately. “It would explain why you can never seem to do a single thing I tell you.”
“You could try asking nicely.”
There’s enough suggestiveness in Merlin’s tone that Arthur glances at him, wondering whether he’s reading too much into a statement that could just as easily be part of their normal banter. Merlin is watching him with his head tipped to one side, and god damn Morgana for thinking that these costumes were such a brilliant idea, because it’s completely impossible for Arthur to gauge his expression. Is he flirting, or teasing? There’s no way to tell.
In spite of himself, Arthur’s attention drifts to Merlin’s mouth, the slightly parted lips, soft and faintly curved, and his heart is pounding at a rate disproportionate to the speed at which they’re dancing. What would Merlin do if Arthur kissed him right now, in the middle of the crowded dance floor? Would he freeze up — shove him — push him away? Or would he kiss him back?
He has halfway made up his mind to do it, if only to find out one way or another, when Merlin falters, then stops moving altogether, his eyes fixed on something over Arthur’s shoulder.
“What?” Arthur asks, turning to follow Merlin’s gaze. “What is it?”
Merlin doesn’t answer. A man and a woman are stumbling out of the men’s toilets not far from them, their masks missing and their clothing askew, and for a split second Arthur wonders whether Merlin is thinking — if he’s remembering —
And then it dawns on him. The couple has paused beneath one of the painfully kitsch wall sconces, the orange-yellow light casting distorted shadows across their faces as they giggle and lean into one another for one last kiss. Arthur doesn’t know the man, but he recognises the woman: Sophia, another ex, who had turned out to be more in love with Arthur’s bank account than she was with Arthur himself. As Arthur watches, she looks up at her companion with a coquettish smile, her heavy-lidded eyes making her look like the cat that got the cream, and it suddenly becomes appallingly obvious who the man in front of her must be.
“Shit,” Arthur breathes, his stomach dropping.
He’ll never admit it to her face, but Morgana was right. Edwin is nowhere near good enough for Merlin.
When Arthur turns back, Merlin has already bolted, his dark head only just visible in the crowd as he makes a beeline for the nearest exit. With a muttered curse, Arthur hurries after him, using his elbows freely when dancers are too slow to get out of the way and praying he won’t be too far behind to see where Merlin is headed.
“What the hell did you say to him?” Morgana demands, materialising in Arthur’s path just as he reaches the stairwell doorway. She grabs his arm when he tries to push past her, her fingernails digging into his skin beneath the fine cloth. “I put a lot of effort into setting this up, Arthur, so if you’ve ruined it, I swear to God…”
“Did you also set that up?” Arthur snarls, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. Morgana glances behind him, her brows furrowed behind her mask. Then her eyes widen.
“Oh my god. Is that — ?”
“Edwin and Sophia? Yes, it is.” Arthur folds his arms, glaring. “Tell me you didn’t suggest it to her, Morgana. Tell me this isn’t just some kind of game to you.”
As far as he can tell, Morgana appears genuinely shocked by the accusation, but his sister has always been quite the actress when the occasion calls for it. “I knew he was an asshole, but I didn’t think he’d cheat on Merlin,” she says. “Honestly, Arthur, I had nothing to do with it.”
“Then get the hell out of my way,” Arthur growls, and to his surprise, she does.