Summary: In which there’s a lot of dancing, a final exam piece, a bizzare pair, Merlin’s magic has a crush on Arthur, and Merlin isn’t much better off.
Word Count: 3899
Author's Notes: wanderlust48: I’ve tried to stick to your prompt as much as I can. I realize your prompt called for a Arthur POV, but since I was unable to write a good fic with Arthur’s POV, I took Merlin’s. I also didn’t know anything about contemporary dance before receiving this prompt. I had a lot of fun writing this, though! Thank you for the prompt and I’d like to thank the mods for organizing such a wonderful fest. wanderlust48 I really hope you like it!
Thanks to my wonderful beta digthewriter who is absolutely awesome and patient and without whom this fic wouldn’t be half as good.
Title from Los Campesinos.
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.
“That’s great, Gwen!” Freya says and Merlin zones back into the conversation. He sags back in his chair and smiles along with Freya. Will is leaning back in his seat, looking irritated. Gwen is on the edge of her seat, smiling in a way that makes Merlin think that the smile might just get stuck on her face, if she keeps it up long enough.
Merlin hasn’t really been paying attention, too occupied with the notice that was read out earlier. The final exam piece is going to be a duet, and the juniors are going to be paired up with seniors for it.
Merlin loves dancing. He loves the way his body moves, the way it spins, the fluidity he somehow manages while in motion. His favourite part is the exhaustion, the sweat at the end of a routine. He's never felt more alive. He loves losing himself in it. When he moves, the world seems to blur around him until all that is left is the twist of his body and the whirl of his magic that dances along with him happily.
The freedom Merlin feels while dancing only gets better when he has a partner. Both bodies moving together flawlessly, finding the perfect sync and just letting the world blur around them. But you can’t find that rhythm with everyone, and Merlin wonders who he’ll be paired up with for the finals.
It’s weird, he thinks, pairing seniors and juniors together for the finals, but he doesn’t question it. He’s quite excited about it, too. He’s hoping to be paired up with Gwaine, or Elyan or Owain. Percival the Big dances well, but he dwarfs over Merlin, making him look like a small child. Merlin is not overly fond of looking tiny, especially when he’s a respectable height.
There are other seniors, of course, but Merlin has no interest in them. His biggest fear, of course, is that he'll be paired up with someone who he won't mesh with at all. Someone like, Val or Cedric, but he's not focusing on that right now. He's trying to stay positive.
When Freya kicks him under the table, Merlin startles and zooms in on the conversation again.
“No,” is what Merlin says when he finds out which senior he’s paired with. And then, as an afterthought, he adds: “No.”
Gwen just smiles at him sympathetically, and Will pats him on his back—very non-sympathetically—while poorly trying to muffle his laughter. Will has been paired with Vivian, who is as much an arse as Will is, so Merlin is quite sure they deserve each other.
“You,” Merlin says, and whirls around, pointing a finger at Will, and then the words die on his tongue when Merlin gets quick vision of how the next few weeks are going to be like. He sighs and slumps back against the wall. “Kill me now,” he says. Will sniggers, and Gwen squeezes his shoulder.
“I’m sure Arthur isn’t that bad,” Gwen tries to comfort him, and Merlin’s magic agrees, curling in his belly and making his skin buzz.
Merlin hates his magic.
Merlin’s magic goes haywire around Arthur.
He isn’t exactly surprised by it, because most of the time it feels like his magic has a mind of its own. It dances around wildly and moves around the both of them as they move together. Arthur is elegant and perfect even with his bulky body and Merlin doesn’t ever want to stop watching him move. His magic is stronger around Arthur; the delicate ribbons of power sometimes feel strong enough to lift them up in the sky. While most of the times it sits somewhere deep inside him, around Arthur, it comes out, warming his heart and making his skin buzz. It feels like it has a mind of its own when its wriggling around the both of them as they move. It's rhythm a music of its own.
It’s awkward at first, because Merlin keeps tripping and worrying about Arthur seeing the glowing golden ribbons of power twisting around him and Arthur keeps glaring and complaining and muttering about how unfair it is that he gets stuck with a fumbling idiot. Merlin scowls at Arthur, even as he watches how Arthur’s eyes are a shocking blue against the golden ribbons of power that are currently crowning Arthur’s head.
Gwen introduces them to Morgana, who’s gorgeous enough to make Merlin question his sexuality. She’s dangerous, too. She could melt anyone (even Percival) with an arch of her perfectly plucked eyebrow.
Except Arthur, of course, because Arthur is immune to her. Merlin grudgingly admits to himself that his respect for Arthur has grown since he met Morgana.
For all her scariness, she’s a wonderful woman, and they all get along really well. They go out for coffee once, just him and Gwen and Morgana, and then Arthur joins them when he spots Merlin.
“I thought you were going to practice,” Arthur says hotly.
“Blame your sister,” Merlin grumbles and huddles in on himself with his hot coffee.
Arthur looks at Morgana and she grins cheekily and he narrows his eyes.
Eventually, Merlin finds out that their relationship is that of love, even if neither of them would show it or say it out loud. He often wonders about how it must have been like for them when they were both kids, being so close together, having each other’s backs even when they got in trouble.
“Why are you the one who always leads?” Merlin asks one day when they’re both sweaty and his head is spinning a bit from exhaustion. He usually likes feeling the pleasant burn in his body, but that combined with Arthur just makes him more irritated, because Arthur is glowing, and being sweaty does nothing but to make him look more beautiful. It’s stupid, Merlin thinks, because Arthur is a prat and most of their time together is spent with Arthur insulting him, or complaining, or glaring at him.
They were all practicing together, and class had ended ten minutes ago. Most people are out of the hall, some lying on the floor to catch their breaths, and Merlin is standing in front of Arthur who’d pressed on even when the class ended to practice some more. They’re still gasping for air from it.
“Because you’re too clumsy to lead,” is Arthur's eloquent response. Merlin folds his arms and glares at Arthur.
“And because Arthur here is too fat for you to pick up,” Morgana says suddenly, appearing behind them and places a hand on Arthur’s shoulder in mock sympathy.
Arthur grumbles something under his breath and bats Morgana’s hand away as if it’s a worm, but Morgana doesn’t seem to care. She just winks at Merlin and strides off, throwing a quick “See you later, dear brother,” over her shoulder, her heels tapping at the wood. Gwen nods at them both and smiles weakly before following Morgana out.
Arthur tells him that he should be the one to lead if he’s so eager. And Merlin taps a bit at his magic to make him a bit less clumsy. He’s still clumsy, though, and he’s thinking he needs to work on that when Arthur asks him why he decided to go to a dance school of all places.
Merlin glares and grumbles about annoying prats.
For some reason, it's easier after that. Merlin is less clumsy and his magic is finally cooperating. It’s going well until they find out that Merlin can’t lift Arthur without grunting and making faces. Merlin tells Arthur that since he’s too fat for Merlin to pick up, Arthur should be the one to lead.
Arthur complains near constantly about Merlin’s clumsiness and then teases him about being so light all day, but they’re becoming friends now, slowly. They’re getting to know each other, getting used to each other’s quirks and faults. Arthur looks at him differently, there’s a fond quality to his voice when he teases Merlin. Some of the tension that was coiling between them has been relieved and it’s easier now to dance with Arthur, to move their bodies together and just let everything blur around them, let his magic dance and envelop them in a world of their own.
Merlin curses under his breath when he sees Gwaine appearing in the doorway. He loves this room, it’s his favorite one. There are big windows here, and sunlight streams in beautifully, letting him see the dust particles that dance around unnoticed in the air. And now he has to give this room over to Gwaine and Elena (who look like angels dancing together. Merlin is not ashamed to admit that he’s a bit jealous) because Arthur is bloody late.
“Hey,” Gwaine greets him and grins.
“Hi,” Merlin says. And then: “Where’s Elena?”
“She left,” Gwaine says, and Merlin hopes Gwaine didn’t catch his relieved sigh. “We’re going to practice later.”
One thing leads to another and he’s dancing with Gwaine.
Dancing with Gwaine is just as easy as their friendship, and Merlin finds himself enjoying it more than he does with Arthur. Arthur makes him trip over himself, fumble around and babble on. He’s not like that around most people. It’s just that, he likes Arthur, and that makes him clumsier than usual. But with Gwaine, it’s simple and Merlin doesn’t have to think too much. It’s freeing, whereas dancing with Arthur sometimes feels like a heavy weight settling around his shoulders.
Someone clears their throat from the door disapprovingly and Merlin stops and whirls around. It’s Arthur.
Gwaine removes his hand from Merlin's waist. "I'll send you a text later, Merlin,” he says. “I'd love to do this again." Merlin tries to answer but isn't sure any coherent words would come out of his mouth. He’s very much aware of the hole Arthur is trying to bore in his skull with his glare.
Then, with a quick goodbye to both of them, Gwaine is out of the room, and Merlin is left with a glaring Arthur.
“You were late,” Merlin tries to explain weakly, even though he doesn’t know why he needs to explain this.
Arthur is sulky and a bit stiff during practice, and Merlin bites off all the questions of concern that come to his mind.
It’s long after practice has ended and Arthur has left, that Merlin is still practicing the spin. It’s hard, and he really wants to perfect it. He's struggling to make it as graceful as Arthur’s, when he notices someone is leaning against the doorframe and promptly falls down.
Arthur is there. He offers his hand to help Merlin up, but Merlin has trouble getting up. He leans down to check Merlin’s foot, which hurts a bit. Merlin hisses at his touch.
“Idiot,” Arthur says, when he’s done checking it.
Merlin is touched by his concern, but he won't dare show it. “Oi! I wasn’t the one who was creepily looking at someone else dancing.”
Arthur’s face turns deliciously red at that, even his ears. Merlin wants to lick them. He shakes the thought off.
“That doesn’t change the fact that you’re an idiot,” Arthur says.
“And you’re a prat.”
“Come on,” Arthur says, ignoring Merlin’s comment and standing up. He extends a hand toward Merlin. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Merlin doesn’t take Arthur’s hand on principle, stands up and glowers at Arthur. Arthur doesn’t seem to care.
“Come on, Merlin,” Arthur says, extending his hand again. There’s something soft about this, about the way Arthur has extended his hand, the encouraging tilt to his head and the small smile playing on his lips. Merlin has no choice but to take the hand.
Merlin invites Arthur over to his flat for drinks and a movie. Will and Freya were going to be there too. It’s not like it’s a date; he makes sure to let Arthur know that other people are going to be there. But then Will has to leave for practice with Vivian and Freya and Morgana have suddenly formed a weird bond so she’s at Morgana’s flat, and Merlin is alone when he opens the door for Arthur.
Merlin is wearing his favorite jumper, and his best jeans, also, he's cleaned the flat three times. Not because he wants to impress Arthur, of course, but because it’s the first time Arthur is visiting and Merlin’s mum always taught him that he should be at his best when there are guests visiting.
Arthur’s thigh is a hot line against Merlin’s own on the too small sofa. Their fingers keep touching when they reach for popcorn at the same time and every time, it sends a thrill up Merlin’s spine. When Arthur leans back and stretches, Merlin forces himself to look away.
Arthur won’t make eye contact with Merlin the next day, or the day after that and Merlin doesn’t know what the hell happened when five days later, Arthur still seems distant.
Will and Freya are out and Arthur surprises him when he shows up at his door. It’s especially surprising because their practice had been more awkward than usual today. Arthur holds up a CD, and says, “Practice?”
Merlin’s about to protest that there isn’t enough place in his flat to practice when he notices the cover, he knows the song. It’s slow and romantic and nowhere near the songs they’re using for their piece. Merlin nods, and invites Arthur in.
There’s a weird quality to Arthur. He seems nervous and Merlin thinks it’s a date. He tries to ignore the warm spread of—something—that goes through him. Arthur isn’t avoiding eye contact anymore, and he seems a bit more comfortable around him than he was at the studio, but he’s not talking much.
They dance in the clothes they'd been wearing. At the studio they would change into their "practice wear" but in Merlin's flat, they practice like that. Arthur is in a button-down and jeans that look like they were made especially for him and Merlin in his pyjama bottoms, and a worn-out old hoodie. They’re standing too close; slowly moving along to the song, breathing in each other’s air, and Merlin can’t help but think it’s the best day of his life.
Arthur comes over to Merlin’s flat again, and asks him to go out drinking. With a charming smile like that, Merlin has difficulty saying no. He puts on his jacket and scarf and they go out.
The bar Arthur decides to take him to is far more high class than Merlin expected. The floors are clean, the tables don’t have even the smallest bit of stain or stickiness, and Merlin feels out of place. There’s a dance floor, but neither of them want to dance here. The cheapest drink costs more than Merlin’s breakfast, lunch and dinner combined and Arthur insists on paying for it. For the first time, Merlin doesn’t argue, because he’s already low on money. He’ll pay Arthur back later.
Arthur is … different. Their conversation becomes more and more personal as they drink, and Arthur talks about his mother (how he misses her, how he only knew her for 5 years), about how it was after her death, and Merlin talks about his father (how he wishes he had known him). Then Arthur turns towards greener pastures and talks about his childhood with Morgana. About the one time they went to a beach. Merlin doesn’t remember what it was that Arthur had said, but he remembers throwing his head back and laughing.
Then Arthur suggests that they should go to his flat to practice.
Merlin doesn’t think practice would be possible, what with the both of them swaying, but he agrees.
They don’t practice.
Arthur puts on a slow—romantic—song and rests his hands on Merlin’s hips and Merlin’s heart rate picks up.
It's not long until they're in bed together, Arthur on top of him, and they're snogging. Merlin's hands are in Arthur's hair, and Arthur has one hand grabbing his hips and the other under his shirt, splayed wide on his stomach.
And that’s how it is. They keep it quiet after that. It’s just a few quiet dates and then a dance and snogging. Or shagging. Depending how exhausted they are.
Merlin tells Gwen, though, who just looks at him and grins in a way that reminds Merlin too much of his mum.
Arthur is his usual prat most of the days, but sometimes he goes soft and then takes Merlin for a late night ice-cream after watching a particularly boring film.
They never talk about it—not really. They still call it practice, no matter what they’re doing. Neither of them dares call their dinners, or lunches, or brunches, or whatever else they do, a date.
Although he doesn't mind, Merlin does wish that things were a bit clearer. He doesn’t really know where he stands with Arthur.
The finals are approaching soon, and they both decide that no more of ‘that’ until later. They practice vigorously—the real practice, until they’re exhausted, and then some and by the end of the day, Merlin is so tired he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.
Then Arthur calls him one night, invites him over, and Merlin goes. There’s a lazy snog on the bed before they both fall asleep, Arthur behind Merlin with his hand sprawled across Merlin’s hip.
Things only get weirder when he wakes up to an empty bed and the smell of coffee and toast. Arthur is standing near the island, two cups in his hands as he turns around and stops.
“I uh—” he murmurs, blushing, “I thought I’d wake you up.”
“Uh—thanks,” is all Merlin can say, he takes an awkward step forward and stops. Takes two more and is a foot away from Arthur now. He extends a hand and Arthur gives him a cup.
Merlin tries hard not to shiver when their fingers touch.
It’s the day before the finals and they’re both busy. They don’t have time to practice, but it’s alright, because they’ve practiced as much as they can. They’ve practiced so much that Merlin doesn’t remember talking to his friends for more than an hour over the last week.
Merlin is sitting with Will and Freya in their flat, eating cereal for dinner and talking about nothing in particular. Will has been grumpy and irritated with Merlin, and Freya has shown her irritation once, but otherwise, they’re fine.
Merlin’s phone beeps.
I’ll pick you up at 7 am tomorrow. Sharp. Be ready. A
We’re going to be amazing. M
Arthur doesn’t reply, but Merlin can't help but be positive.
The finals go spectacularly well, they’re all nervous and jumpy, especially the juniors, but they all go through it without much incident. Freya and Percival are wonderful together and Merlin’s initial thoughts of the elephant and the ant dissolve as he watches them move. Gwaine and Elena are amazing like always, and so are the rest of them.
There’s a moment when Merlin and Arthur are to perform in 5 minutes and Merlin panics. Arthur has to grab his face and plant a hard kiss on his lips to bring him back to reality. Other than that initial moment of nervousness, everything goes well.
After the finals, Morgana throws a party at Pendragon house. The mansion, (they call it a house, but it is, by no means, anything short of a bloody castle) is an hour’s drive away from the city, and most of them are going to stay the night. It feels like more than half the school is here, and Merlin is shocked to realize that he knows most people here. He didn’t know he knew so many people.
Morgana’s parties are just like her, Merlin finds out: grand and beautiful--and just a bit wild. It’s an outdoor party with lights and picnic tables and music and a buffet including a wide variety of vegan food as well as non-vegan. Merlin and Freya pounce at the tables at the prospect of lots of free vegan food, filling their plates obnoxiously and scarfing down the food. He feels dizzy as he walks through the crowds of people and sits on the farthest picnic table. He stays there even as people start drifting inside, some of them (those who are sober) saying goodbye to an increasingly drunken Morgana.
He catches glimpses of Arthur: a flash of blond hair here, a visual of broad shoulders filling out a black t-shirt there. He only meets Arthur’s eyes once, and from that brief moment, Merlin realizes that Arthur is extremely drunk.
It’s almost dawn, the sky is slowly turning pale, and most of the people have either passed out, or drifted inside the mansion. Merlin is still sitting on the picnic table, leaning back. Gwaine has passed out on another table, used plastic plates and Styrofoam cups around him as he snores indelicately. Two of Morgana’s friends are muttering something, leaning against each other while they’re sitting on a swing a few ways away from Merlin, but Merlin is mostly sure they’re just drunken mutterings. There’s no one else in sight. Merlin leans back and stares at the sky which is growing brighter.
He’s enjoying the warm buzz of alcohol and magic in his belly.
His magic begins to move in lazy patterns all around him when someone sits beside him. Merlin turns his head. It’s Arthur.
Arthur curls his hand around the nape of Merlin’s neck and pulls him in for a sloppy kiss. When they part, Arthur doesn’t pull away, he just stares into Merlin’s eyes for a long minute before pulling him even closer, pressing Merlin’s head on his shoulder and resting his own head on Merlin’s.
They don’t speak for a while, long enough that the sky is fully bright now and the sun is about to rise.
“I’ve wanted this,” Arthur says at last.
“Yeah, been dreaming about it for so long.”
“Oh,” Merlin says just as he gets the first glimpse of the sun, and he has to laugh at how clichéd this is, how choreographed it feels, but then Arthur is kissing him again and Merlin forgets everything else.
It’s like that afterwards, until one day Merlin realizes that they don’t call it practice anymore, and Arthur looks at him across the cafeteria, and smiles, and kisses him in public, and they have fabulous sex, and they dance together. Merlin thinks even Gwaine and Elena would envy them now, the way they move together, as if they were made for this, made for dancing with each other.
Arthur is away for the weekend and Merlin’s lying on the sofa. Will is sitting down on the ground, too close to the telly, too excited about whatever’s going on, and Freya is off to his right somewhere completing her next masterpiece. Merlin is thinking about how it will be when Arthur comes home with him on their next free weekend, when he stops and thinks that he’s more happy now than he can remember being in a long time.
It’s a good life he has carved for himself, he thinks as he smiles. It’s a good life after all.