Title: The Other Side of Fear
Character/s: Percival, Arthur, Merlin, Valiant
Summary: Uni AU. For Percival, staying in the closet was a lot easier before he saw Merlin.
Warnings: Homophobic behavior/slurs
Word Count: 1244
Prompt: #441, Don't be cruel.
Author's Notes: I went long again. I might have a problem.
He fell into Arthur Pendragon’s group by accident. At least, that was how Percival thought of it. He hadn’t sought them out. Instead, Arthur had been the one to make the first approach, cornering him at the end of the one class they had in common – Criminal Psychology – to ask if he could play at an upcoming football match.
“Leon broke his ankle at the last game,” Arthur had explained. “By the time he can play again, there’ll be snow on the pitch.”
“But you don’t know me,” Percival countered.
“Do you know how to play?”
“I’m looking for a new player, not a best mate. Are you in?”
Percival agreed, mostly because he really did like football and breaking up his normal exercise routine would be good for him. He played the midfield that first game, but Arthur moved him to goalie for the second. That was where he stayed. Rather like how he stuck around with Arthur’s group. It was easy, and he fit in without having to try. Nobody talked about anything too deep, and if sometimes he got a bit put off by some of the off-color remarks his teammates might make, he simply ignored them.
Because it was easy.
Things started getting complicated the first time he spotted Merlin Emrys. Sitting at a bus stop, Merlin was bundled against the wind, even though it wasn’t that cold out, and his ears were the same bright red as his scarf. He had his arm around a bloke Percival didn’t recognize, wearing a smile so wide Percival wondered how anything in this gray world could make someone so happy. Then, Merlin leaned in and kissed his companion, a deep, hungry kiss that left very little to the imagination. Percival nearly knocked over a passerby when he saw it. His only thought was, Lucky guy.
Of course, he didn’t actually learn Merlin’s name until a week later. It took a lot of poking around, as discreetly as he could manage, to learn it. And then, it seemed like Merlin was everywhere Percival looked.
Starting with the football pitch.
The afternoon was dreary, the crowd light. Picking out that scarf was easy, though Percival would’ve much preferred not noticing it for the first time when he was going to block a shot. The ball got through, and he flushed when Valiant shot him a dirty look. Percival buckled down after that, deliberately keeping his attention on the ball rather than the bystanders. They won by one, but afterward, he saw Merlin and the same guy from the bus stop talking to someone from the other team.
On a whim, he approached the other player and, as casually as he could manage, said, “Good game.”
All eyes turned to him, including a couple of his teammates. “You, too,” the other player said.
Percival’s gaze darted to Merlin, but before he could say anything more, Arthur was shouting for him to join the rest of the guys farther down the field.
“Didn’t know you wanted to play for the pansies,” Valiant sneered when Percival approached.
Percival froze when the others laughed. Arthur slapped him on the back. “We’d all be lucky if he did,” Arthur said. “None of them would be able to walk, let alone run, if Percival had a go at them!”
He had no idea what any of it meant until later, at the pub. The opposing team was comprised of students from the LGBT society on campus. Percival hadn’t even known such a group existed.
Maybe that was why he kept spying Merlin about. Curiosity got the better of him, so when he had time, he sought everything he could find on the group. Unsurprisingly, Merlin was a member. So was the player he’d been talking to. They were one of the most active societies at the university, running everything from charity drives to movie nights to protests. One week, Percival bought a ticket to their Tuesday pub quiz and, for two days, practiced what he would say to Merlin if he saw him there. When the night arrived, however, he chickened out before he got to the front door.
He’d always hoped that coming out would be easier once he was away from his tiny, conservative village. He’d been wrong.
It was late November when they played the LGBT team again. Merlin was watching, alone this time, and Percival’s concentration was absolute rubbish. He missed blocking two easy goals early on. By halftime, they were down by three.
Valiant was in his face as soon as the whistle blew.
“Where the fuck is your head?” he snarled. “Up their arses, from the look of it.” His eyes glittered with disgust. “The way you’re playing, I’d think you were the one getting buggered on a regular basis, not those fucking faggots.”
Fury suddenly ripped through Percival. He drew himself straight and glared down at Valiant. “Take that back.”
A cruel smile curved Valiant’s mouth. “Because the truth hurts?”
“No, because you’re a homophobic asshole.”
Their raised voices drew rapid attention. Arthur was the first to reach their sides.
“Let’s take this elsewhere, shall we?” Arthur murmured.
“No.” Percival surprised himself with his resolve. He was tired of turning the other cheek. “Either Valiant apologizes for what he said, or I’m done. I won’t play for a team that doesn’t know how to show basic respect.”
“What’s there to apologize for?” Valiant snapped. “Nothing I said wasn’t true.”
“So you’re saying you won’t?” Arthur asked.
“Of course, I fucking won’t.”
“Then, you’re out. Get off the pitch.”
Both Percival and Valiant stared at Arthur in shock. “What do you mean, I’m out?” Valiant said. “He’s the one blowing the game.”
“Because he’s right. What you said was out of line, and I won’t have it on my team. Now, you can either walk off on your own, or Perc and I will drag you off in front of everybody.” Arthur smiled. “After listening to your shit for the last two years, it’ll be my pleasure.”
Percival was gobsmacked as Valiant huffed away, kicking over a chair someone had brought as he left the field. He still couldn’t wrap his head around it when Arthur turned toward him.
“I’m sorry it took me this long to do something about him,” Arthur said. “I thought deflecting the conversation whenever he said shit like that would be enough, but obviously, I was wrong.” His gaze softened as Percival simply stared at him. “I’ll understand if it’s not enough. But I swear to you, nobody else on the team thinks the same about you as he does.”
Arthur knew. Without saying it aloud, without Percival coming out to him, he’d somehow figured it out. Percival didn’t know if he should run and hide or cry with relief.
“Was I that obvious?” he whispered.
Arthur shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. But can I give you one word of advice?”
A mute Percival nodded.
“Go introduce yourself to Merlin for real. He’s a good guy.” A twinkle appeared in Arthur’s eye. “And I heard he just broke up with Lance. So he’s available, too.”
With that, Arthur strode away, whistling under his breath.
Percival’s gaze strayed to Merlin. He didn’t have time to consider Arthur’s suggestion right now. He had to get his head back into the game first. But he did know one thing for sure.
He wasn’t as afraid of the possibility anymore.