Title: 'Til You Make It
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Gwaine/Elena
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gwaine
Summary: It’s all very civilised, very grown up; Arthur wants to tease him about getting domestic in his old age (a full two years younger than Arthur himself), but all he can think is that Merlin seems so happy and relaxed, not like he was before. And Arthur is about to destroy that forever.
Warnings: Mentions of (supposed) infidelity.
Word Count: 1600 words
Prompt: 364: Pretend Couple.
Author's Notes: Apologies for the length – it got away from me a bit and I couldn't bring myself to trim it down. Hope you enjoy!
Arthur perches nervously on the sofa as Merlin goes to get the tea, taking the opportunity to glance around the living room. He hasn’t seen the place since Merlin moved in, but it hasn’t really changed much—a handful of new photos on the walls, all of them showing Merlin and Gwaine in various couple-y poses; a blanket he recognises as being knitted by Merlin’s mother draped over an armchair in the corner. The sight makes his heart clench unexpectedly, and he fists his hands in his lap to control their trembling. He’s doing the right thing, coming here. Even though Merlin may end up hating him, he deserves to know what’s been going on, and since Gwaine won’t even take his calls—
“Here you go,” Merlin says, returning with two steaming mugs. One of them has a plate of biscuits balanced precariously on top, and Arthur hurries to relieve him of it, knowing only too well how clumsy Merlin can be. Merlin flashes him a grateful smile. “Thanks,” he says. “Please, sit down.”
It’s all very civilised, very grown up; Arthur wants to tease him about getting domestic in his old age (a full two years younger than Arthur himself), but all he can think is that Merlin seems so happy and relaxed, not like he was before. And Arthur is about to destroy that forever.
“Thank you,” he says, and sits, crossing his legs and then uncrossing them. He picks up his tea. “Is Gwaine home?”
“No, he’s out.” A fond smile crosses Merlin’s face, and the fingernails of Arthur's free hand dig into his palm. “He’s been pretty busy with his latest project at work, so his hours are all over the place.” He looks up at Arthur, and the smile turns tentative. “I can tell him you stopped by, if…?”
“No, actually—I was actually hoping to talk to you,” Arthur blurts, before he can chicken out.
Is he imagining it, or does Merlin look almost pleased? He ducks his head, but Arthur can see the tips of his ears turning faintly pink. “Me?” He reaches for a biscuit and fiddles with it, breaking a bit off the edge and dropping it into his tea as he tries to dunk it. “I was kind of under the impression that you’ve been avoiding me.”
Arthur bites his lip. “Maybe I have been, a bit,” he admits. “But that doesn’t matter now. I wanted—”
“Doesn’t matter?” Merlin’s eyebrows go up, and now the flush on his cheeks is from annoyance, not pleasure. “You can’t just turn up on my doorstep after half a year and then tell me—”
“Gwaine’s cheating on you,” Arthur says.
The words drop like anvils into a sudden silence, and Arthur meets Merlin’s shocked blue gaze head on, his heart racing, the taste of tea gone sour in his mouth.
“He’s cheating on you,” he repeats.
“What,” Merlin says blankly.
“I saw him the other night, out with a woman,” Arthur says it all in a rush, hoping to get the whole story out while Merlin is still listening. “I didn’t think anything of it, at first, because I know Gwaine—or I thought I did—but then they started kissing. And I don’t mean just like a peck on the cheek, or something; I mean full-on making out, like they’d forgotten they were in public.”
He can see Merlin’s Adam’s apple bob slightly as he swallows, and has to put down his cup of tea before it spills. “Merlin, I—”
“Where was this?” Merlin’s voice is sharp.
“I—The Rising Sun. One of the back corner booths.”
“And was there anyone else with them? Anyone watching them?”
Arthur frowns. “Not that I saw,” he answers slowly. “But what—”
But Merlin’s shoulders have relaxed a little, straightening out of their defensive pose, and he looks almost relieved. “Reckless bastard,” he mutters, shaking his head, then looks over at Arthur, his frown melting into a softer expression. “Thank you for telling me,” he says. “That must have been really hard for you to do.”
Arthur waves this away uncomfortably. “You deserved to know,” he says.
“Still. You didn’t have to come here, and I appreciate it. You haven’t mentioned it to anyone else, have you?”
Arthur’s brow furrows still further. “No,” he says. “I tried to get hold of Gwaine, but when he wouldn’t pick up I came straight to you. Merlin, what’s going on?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well,” Arthur says, a trifle impatiently. “For someone who just found out their boyfriend is cheating on them, you don’t seem awfully upset. Or even surprised.”
Merlin sits back in his chair, crossing his ankles one over the other and regarding Arthur with an expression that is equal parts amused and sheepish. “That’s because Gwaine isn’t my boyfriend.”
Now it’s Arthur’s turn to stare. “He what.”
“It was a cover story,” Merlin explains, and he’s definitely trying to hide a smile now. Arthur wonders vaguely what he must look like—a stunned mullet, probably. Definitely someone who has just been hit over the head by something heavy. “A ruse. Tell me, did you recognise the woman Gwaine was with at all?”
Thinking back, Arthur is forced to shake his head. “Should I have?”
“Her name is Elena Godwin,” Merlin says. “The actress? She was in—no, never mind, you probably haven’t seen it. Suffice to say she is very famous. She and Gwaine met on one of her press tours and really hit it off, but they wanted to keep it from leaking to the press. So Gwaine figured, if he pretended to be gay and in a relationship…”
“And you agreed?”
Merlin shrugs. “I needed a place to stay, he needed a fake boyfriend. It seemed like a win-win situation.” He lowers his head and picks at the sofa cushions for a moment, avoiding Arthur’s eyes. “At least, until I realised there was a downside.”
“I wanted you back, Arthur,” Merlin admits quietly. “It took me about three weeks after our fight to realise what an idiot I was, and by that time I had already promised Gwaine I’d help him out and neglected to renew my lease. I didn’t really have much choice.”
“Oh.” Uncertain what to say, Arthur can only stare at him. “I always thought you moved on awfully fast.”
He’d thought other things as well, uncharitable things, like maybe Merlin had never really loved him at all, or that he’d been seeing Gwaine before they’d even broken up. Looking at Merlin now, however, as earnest and steadfast as he ever was, he wonders how he hadn’t seen through the lie from the beginning. Merlin had always been adamant there was never anything between him and Gwaine.
"I thought you might," Merlin says ruefully, and finally lifts his gaze to Arthur’s. “But it turns out I didn’t actually move on at all."
Arthur isn’t sure which one of them moves first. Perhaps they both give in at the same time, standing up and taking the one full stride necessary across the space that divides them. Merlin’s hands find Arthur’s shirt and Arthur has hold of his waist and then they’re kissing, the force of it driving Arthur backwards until the backs of his knees hit the edge of the sofa. Merlin pushes him down and Arthur goes, lying back against the cushions as Merlin straddles him, unwilling to let him go even for a moment, and then—
And then the door bangs open.
“Cuckolded, in my own home!” Gwaine cries dramatically, clutching at his chest. “Merlin, how could you!”
For a split second, Arthur wonders if maybe he’s been tricked, if he’s gotten everything wrong and screwed up again. Then Merlin rolls his eyes, shifting slightly so that Arthur can breathe, and glares up at his flatmate. “Arthur saw you out at the pub with Ellie, you twat. He’s consoling me in my hour of need.”
“Oh, right.” Gwaine snaps his fingers. “I seem to remember getting a voicemail or two about that. Something to do with ripping my balls out through my throat and setting them on fire if I didn’t come clean? Very kinky.” He winks at Arthur, who narrows his eyes in sudden understanding.
“Did you arrange this?” he demands, gesturing between himself and Merlin. They’re both of them dishevelled and breathing hard, and quite coincidentally in the same room again after almost six months of radio silence.
“Who me?” Gwaine asks innocently. “Drive my boyfriend into the arms of another man? Why on earth would I do a thing like that?”
“I don’t know,” Merlin says, clearly sharing Arthur’s suspicions. “But it might have something to do with a certain ring I found in your bedside cabinet the other day.”
At that, Gwaine finally drops the pretence and beams at Merlin, doing a stupid little jig around the coffee table with his arms in the air. “She said yes! I can’t believe it. We’re getting married!”
“Congratulations,” Merlin says drily. “I suppose that means we’re officially broken up?”
“Well, considering I just caught you going at it with your ex,” Gwaine says, grinning. “I’d say that’s a given. I’ll get the champagne, shall I?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer but walks into the kitchen, whistling jauntily. Merlin and Arthur look at each other.
“Merlin, I hate to be the one to tell you this,” Arthur says solemnly, “but your boyfriend’s a prat.”
“Yeah, he is,” Merlin agrees, leaning down again to kiss him softly on the lips. “But I love him anyway.”