Title: Truth or Dare
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Gwaine, Leon, Cenred
Summary: It wasn't that Arthur wasn't expecting Merlin to take up with someone else after their split. He just wasn't expecting it so soon, and he wasn't expecting it to be someone like Cenred. And he wasn't expecting to turn up at his own sister's birthday do and find the new relationship flaunted in his face.
Warnings: Blackmail for sexual favours implied
Word Count: 1808 (I'm sorry! I've been really good at keeping to the limit recently but this one just ran away)
Prompt: 98 - Truth or Dare
Author's Notes: It wouldn't stop... (Also fills my trope_bingo square 'Mind Games'.) Thanks to celeste9 for the beta.
Truth or Dare
Sometimes, life could be cruel.
It wasn't that Arthur wasn't expecting Merlin to take up with someone else after their split. He just wasn't expecting it so soon, and he wasn't expecting it to be someone like Cenred. And he wasn't expecting to turn up at his own sister's birthday do and find the new relationship flaunted in his face.
"Sorry Arthur," Morgana had said when Cenred strode in, one arm slung possessively across Merlin's shoulders. "I invited them separately. I thought you two might have been able to patch things up. I didn't realise they were together." And just for once his sister did actually look genuinely sorry. But then she liked Merlin, she always had. The trouble was, so did Cenred. And he had never liked Arthur.
Merlin, for his part, looked uncomfortable at best. He saw Arthur and ducked his head, turning away towards the kitchen and the makeshift bar that Gwaine had set up. But Cenred wasn't having that. He pulled Merlin back to his side, making a beeline for Arthur.
"Pendragon. Hope this isn't going to be awkward." He looked almost gleeful. "You two used to have a thing, didn't you?"
"As you're well aware." There were other things he wanted to say, but they were only for Merlin's ears. His huge, ridiculous, adorable ears. "Merlin." Those blue eyes finally looked up to meet his. They looked apprehensive, then a nudge from Cenred seemed to force a smile that never reached his eyes. It wasn't the smile Arthur was used to seeing, and that hurt so he bit back the cruel comment that was on the tip of his tongue because he just didn't have the heart for it. "I guess I'll see you around." And he walked away, over to Gwaine and the bar and everything it held.
Gwaine was always Gwaine, and Arthur was glad of that. He held out a can of beer as Arthur approached, not even waiting to be asked, then turned back to the hideous-looking cocktail he was concocting for a dubious-looking Leon. It looked complicated, but that didn't stop him asking: "What's Merlin doing with Cenred?"
"I don't know, don't want to know." Arthur opened the can and drank most of it down in one. It wasn't strong enough. Neat vodka probably wouldn't be strong enough.
"He doesn't even like Cenred," Gwaine continued, ignoring Leon who was gesturing to him to shut up. "Why would he go out with him?"
"I don't know, Gwaine, to spite me perhaps? Why don't you ask him?" Arthur grabbed a couple of cans and walked away, though not before he heard Gwaine say that maybe he would.
Merlin didn't like Cenred, it was true. The man's father owned the flats where Merlin's mother lived, and there had been some harassment in the past. But he didn't look harassed now, shoved up against the wall and letting Cenred snog his face off. If he'd tried to go for the person who it would hurt Arthur most to see him with, he'd probably succeeded. Arthur turned away, considering leaving. Morgana would understand and it didn't look as if Merlin would care. He'd always thought Merlin was better than that.
Arthur opened one of the cans, and headed over to Elyan and Percival. It wouldn't matter soon. He'd forget and find someone else just like Merlin had done. It was just that time, the days, weeks, months... it felt as if he'd never be happy again. And all for a stupid argument over something that didn't matter.
And they all wanted to talk about it.
"Does Merlin look okay to you?" Elyan asked. Merlin always looked okay to Arthur. More than okay.
"He's moved on." Arthur didn't want to turn around and see that for himself.
"He looks miserable," Percival confirmed.
Arthur forced himself to look. Merlin was keeping his head down, but Cenred was watching Arthur and raised a glass to him, taunting him, running his hand down Merlin's side possessively. Merlin gave a small, involuntary shudder.
Sometimes, when Arthur had run his hands over Merlin's skin, his ex-lover had shuddered but not like that. Not as if he wanted to get away. But there was no time to ponder it because Gwaine burst into the centre of the room, dragging a very reluctant Leon with him. "Come on! Truth or Dare!"
Cenred whispered something to Merlin, who looked momentarily horrified. Arthur knew there was a chance he was imagining it, seeing things that weren't there because he didn't want Merlin to be happy with someone else. Especially not Cenred.
A circle quickly formed. Arthur stood back, watching. There was no way he was going to be included in anything that involved truth, not whilst he felt as if his heart were being torn apart. He leaned against the wall, putting himself opposite Merlin so that he had a good view. He needed to be sure. He didn't think he could deal with Merlin pushing him away if he were wrong.
Gwaine was spinning the bottle, which meant it was probably loaded to land on the person of Gwaine's choice. It landed on Merlin, of course. Startled blue eyes momentarily met Arthur's, then looked away.
Someone else who didn't want the truth then. Arthur watched as Gwaine handed over a card and Merlin shrugged, then leaned over to lick the floor. Very tame by Gwaine's standards, but it was only the start of the game. Leon's face was a study in revulsion.
The bottle went round a few more people, then landed on Merlin again.
Merlin rarely went for dares. He hated them, knowing the sort of thing Gwaine's warped sense of humour could come up with.
"Kiss the person opposite you for a full minute. With tongue," Gwaine read. He gave Merlin a predatory smile.
"That's you," Cenred accused. "You fixed that."
"Actually, it's Arthur," Leon pointed out. "He's the one directly opposite. If you're being strictly accurate."
Gwaine grinned at him and Arthur just knew they'd thought it out between them before starting the game. Nobody would suspect Leon of ever being involved in any sort of cheating.
"Forfeit," Cenred snapped. Arthur supposed that he hadn't thought things through, that he had supposed it would be an opportunity to flaunt his new relationship some more. Gwaine's dares never, ever involved the person next to you. That was no fun.
Gwaine shrugged. "Then Merlin has to go again."
"Dare," Merlin said. He glanced worriedly at Cenred.
"You can't pick the same option more than twice in a row," Gwaine reminded him. "You know the rules. Truth it is."
Arthur noticed the way Merlin glanced towards him nervously. That told him all he needed to know about the supposed relationship with Cenred.
"Come on then, Merlin. Truth." Gwaine pulled out a card. "Ah! A great question. Why are you with your current partner?"
Cenred glared at Gwaine, keeping a tight grip on Merlin. Arthur could see the man's fingers digging painfully into Merlin's thin arm. Merlin looked miserable.
"That's not what's on the card," he attempted.
Gwaine flipped it over to him. Gwaine, of course, would have picked whichever card suited his purpose, just as he had with the kissing. They were all marked.
"I... just... it's early days and he just asked me out and I thought... it's early days."
Gwaine shook his head. "Not a truthful answer, my friend. Truth, remember?"
Merlin shifted uncomfortably. "Because... he's good looking and rich."
"That's Merlin's type," Cenred confirmed in another dig at Arthur. "He's all about the money."
It had never been about the money. They'd just clicked from day one, in spite of the financial differences rather than because of them. So Arthur knew what it had to be. "Or is it because Cenred's got keys to your flat and is threatening your mother again if you don't do what he wants?"
Merlin stared at him in horror, then looked to Cenred. "I didn't say anything!"
"You're threatening his mother? That's low." Percival got up, towering over Cenred, Leon and Elyan immediately joining him. Even Lance had unglued himself from his girlfriend and joined them. "Mrs Emrys is a good person."
"If we hear she's been harmed in any way, we'll think it was you," Gwaine warned. He was, perhaps, the least threatening of the group to look at, but Arthur knew he wasn't one to cross.
Merlin scrambled out from Cenred's grip and got up to stand beside Elyan. Arthur saw his chance and slid across to Merlin's side.
"It'll be okay," he promised.
Merlin shook his head. "They can't watch all the time."
"We'll help her move out, live somewhere better," Arthur assured him. "She'll leave in a heartbeat when she knows you've been blackmailed." He had questions about the lengths to which the blackmail had gone, but they were going to have to be for another time, and when Cenred was out of reach so that Arthur didn't actually kill him. "You can both stay at mine until we've found you somewhere. If you like?"
The room was clearing, people following Cenred as he made a hasty exit. The threats were escalating. Hunith Emrys was well-liked, and anyway threatening someone's mother was just cowardly.
"That might be awkward. But... thank you." Merlin shuffled awkwardly for a moment, then added: "I didn't want to come here tonight. It wasn't my idea."
"I know. And for what it's worth, I'm really sorry. I..."
"Me too!" Merlin put in before Arthur could finish what he was going to say. "I shouldn't have left."
"I didn't give you much choice."
"Still, we could've talked it out."
"We still could," Arthur ventured. "I really missed you." Merlin looked at him and Arthur could see faint hope starting to show in his face. Affected by that more than he expected, Arthur looked down, around, at anything else. "What's this?" Arthur picked up the cards Gwaine had dropped. "Would you get back with your ex if you had the chance? He really loaded these things, didn't he?"
"He thinks he's funny..." Arthur paused, seeing Merlin's nervous, hopeful face looking at him. "Wait. Did you mean..."
"I'm still on truth. I didn't answer my question properly so I was supposed to get the next one. I did. Your turn."
Silently, Arthur handed over the cards. Merlin flicked through a few, dropping them on the floor.
"Gwaine cheats far more discretely," Arthur pointed out.
Merlin smiled, holding up the winning card triumphantly. It was a proper smile, one Arthur had seen directed at him so many times. It warmed his heart to have it back. "Truth! Who do you love?"
"That would be Merlin," Arthur whispered, his voice so quiet it was barely audible as he leaned in close to kiss him. "Always. Always Merlin."