Title: We Need to Talk About Arthur [Part 4]
Rating: PG-13 (this part)
Pairing(s): Merlin/Edwin, Merlin/Gwaine, endgame Merlin/Arthur
Character/s: Merlin, Gwaine
Summary: Arthur is acting weirder than usual. Morgana refuses to get involved. Meanwhile, Merlin wants his best friend back (and maybe more besides), but that's easier said than done.
[ Prequel | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | AO3 | Sequel ]
Warnings: Brief mentions of infidelity, stalking.
Word Count: 1300 words.
Prompt: #295 Renewal.
Author's Notes: Let's do this thing!
The date with Gwaine is a disaster.
Or, well, that’s not entirely true. Gwaine is his usual charming self, from his improbably-shiny hair to his infectious smile to the tips of his fancy patent leather shoes. Merlin is pretty sure that even in the event of a zombie apocalypse, Gwaine would somehow contrive to look good, and it’s not as if the man doesn’t know how to make him laugh. No, Gwaine is not the problem: Merlin is the problem. Specifically, Merlin’s absolute inability to flirt with Gwaine is the problem.
He doesn’t even realise what he’s doing, at first. When Gwaine’s foot brushes against his beneath the table, Merlin automatically moves out of the way, thinking the other man needs room to stretch his legs. He isn’t even aware that Gwaine’s hand is on his arm until he reaches for his water glass, dislodging it, and when Gwaine goes to put it back, Merlin snatches up his glass again and drains it, then sits with his hands in his lap, fidgeting beneath the table.
Finally, when Merlin fails to respond to yet another innuendo-laden comment with anything but stammering confusion, Gwaine leans back in his chair and says frankly, “I think I may have misread this situation.”
Merlin blinks at him. “I’m sorry?”
“Not that it matters, but I haven’t struck out with someone so fast since I accidentally hit on my sister’s roommate back in college,” Gwaine says, his dark eyes twinkling. “And she was a lesbian, whereas I don’t think you have that excuse. Did I do something wrong?”
“No, of course not!” Merlin can feel himself blushing, and he scrubs at his hair with one hand. “I’m sorry. I just have something on my mind right now—it’s making me a bit distracted.”
“Mhmm.” Gwaine takes a sip of wine. “And would this be the same tall, blond, snobby something I saw you dancing with on Valentine’s Day?”
“Arthur’s not a snob,” Merlin says automatically, before wincing and shooting Gwaine a sheepish smile. “I don’t suppose there’s any way I can convince you I was thinking about someone else?”
“Not a chance,” Gwaine confirms, smirking. Fortunately, he seems more amused than angry, hooking one arm over his chair and stretching his long legs out to regard Merlin with an expectant expression. “So, what is going on with you two, anyway? Pendragon seemed to think it was ancient history, but judging by the colour of your face right now, it seems like maybe it’s a bit more recent than he let on.”
“We—dated once,” Merlin admits, trying to ignore the pang he feels at such a prosaic summation of their relationship. “For a few months, back in uni, but it didn’t stick. Now he’s my boss, and my best friend.”
“And?” Gwaine prompts.
“And I slept with him.” The words tumble out in a rush, and Merlin buries his face in his hands. “The night of the ball. My boyfriend—now ex boyfriend—cheated on me with Arthur’s ex-girlfriend, and somehow we just sort of ended up…”
“Fucking,” Gwaine supplies sagely. “I thought Pendragon looked a little hot under the collar when I saw him leaving the dance.” Merlin makes a humiliated noise, and Gwaine laughs, reaching across the table to pat him consolingly on the shoulder. “Cheer up, mate, it happens. I take it he didn’t want to renew your relationship afterwards?”
“Oh, no, that was me,” Merlin says, straightening up. “I mean, we’ve been there, tried that, you know? We’re much better off as friends.”
“Huh.” Gwaine sounds surprised, and Merlin looks at him.
“Oh, nothing. I just thought Arthur must've called it off, that’s all. So what’s got your knickers in a twist, then?”
Merlin explains about Arthur and his odd behaviour while Gwaine nods and makes encouraging sounds in the background. “…and then when I told him I was going out with you tonight, so I couldn’t make it to our usual movie night, he just…he didn’t even say anything. Usually I would have expected some teasing or something, but he just nodded and told me he hoped I had a good time. And then he left,” he finishes, slumping in his seat. “Like I was—I don’t know, one of his football buddies, or something. It was weird.”
“Hmm.” Gwaine purses his lips in thought. “What’s so wrong with being one of his football buddies, though? I mean, if you don’t want to date him—”
“I don’t,” Merlin assures him.
“—then I don’t really see the issue. Maybe he’s pulling away so that you don’t get your wires crossed next time you’re feeling drunk and horny.” He swallows the last of his wine and shrugs, tossing his hair back out of his eyes. “That’s not weird. That’s smart.”
Merlin shovels some food into his mouth in lieu of answering and tries to figure out how to respond. On one level, yeah, what Gwaine is saying makes sense. If Arthur’s trying to set up some boundaries for their friendship, then that’s his prerogative—it’s not as if he’s dropped Merlin entirely, after all, so what’s the problem? But Merlin has always kind of subconsciously felt that there’s a difference between how he and Arthur relate to one another and how Arthur treats, well, everyone else. They have their own kind of language, a private give-and-take that most people aren’t a part of, and he’d hate to lose that closeness just because Arthur didn’t think he could keep his hands to himself.
When he tries to explain this to Gwaine, however, the other man just makes another thoughtful sound and raises his eyebrows.
“Are you sure the two of you aren’t dating?”
“Really, really sure,” Merlin says, rolling his eyes. “Would I be here if we were?”
“I don’t know, maybe you have an open relationship,” Gwaine says, then yelps as Merlin smacks him on the arm. “All right, all right. Let me put this another way. If you had to save either Arthur or Edwin from a burning building, who would you choose?”
“Arthur,” Merlin says immediately. “But that’s only because Edwin is a cheating douche.”
“Touché,” Gwaine acknowledges. “Arthur or a neighbour's puppy?”
Merlin levels him with his flattest stare. “The puppy, obviously.”
“Seriously, Emrys?” Gwaine shakes his head, grinning. “That’s cold, man.”
“Arthur’s a human being, he has a better chance of figuring out how to get out by himself,” Merlin defends, jabbing his fork in the air for emphasis. “A puppy, on the other hand…”
They spend the rest of the evening bickering companionably about who and what they would rescue from a house fire, and it’s not until Gwaine drops Merlin on his doorstep that he realises they’ve spent most of their first date talking about Arthur in some shape or form.
“I’m sorry,” he says, the tips of his ears burning with embarrassment. “I’m a terrible date, aren’t I? I swear I’m usually better company.”
“I had fun anyway,” Gwaine says generously. “You’re cute when you’re preoccupied.” He grins and takes a step closer, lowering his voice an octave. “Very cute, in fact." He leans in, giving Merlin ample time to pull away before their lips meet. The kiss is sweet and undemanding, and Merlin unconsciously leans into it, catching hold of Gwaine’s shoulders to steady himself. He likes Gwaine—he even likes Gwaine's kisses—but he can't help feeling there is something missing.
“Sorry,” Gwaine says huskily, as Merlin gently disengages. "Figured I might not get another chance.”
“It's fine,” Merlin says, fumbling to fit his keys into the lock behind him. The door swings open before he can find the catch, however, and Merlin stumbles backwards in shock, pulling Gwaine through the doorway after him.
Someone is already inside, waiting for them.