Title: Staging a Protest
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, unnamed antagonist
Summary: American college AU. Merlin forgot to avoid the hellfire-and-brimstone preacher in the middle of campus.
Warnings: Homophobic and transphobic language
Word Count: 992
Author's Notes: This is a lot fluffier than the warnings would imply, but if you dislike that kind of language, please give this fic a pass. Also, it could be read as critical of religion (I didn't mean it that way, but I'm mentioning the possibility just in case).
"The wicked will pay for their sins, if not in this life, then in the next! The atheists, the adulterers, the deviants, the homosexuals. God sees you. God sees all!"
Oh no, Merlin thought. He was trying to arrive early to class to speak to his professor about an upcoming project, and he'd forgotten not to cut through the green in the middle of campus today. He was wearing eye makeup and his favorite knee-length red skirt over black-and-white striped leggings; he was a few weeks into growing out his beard, as he did every winter; and he was only a few yards away from the scary preacher who sermonized in the middle of the park every Tuesday afternoon.
No one ever stood around to listen, but there were always people passing through the green who had to tolerate the obnoxious speeches and signs, which were hand-painted with hateful slogans. How does he get them all here? Merlin wondered. He imagined him lugging the heavy signs from his home to the middle of campus and shook his head. It was a lot of trouble to go to when one didn't even attract an audience.
"Men like this one! Men who have forgotten what it means to be a man, men who are trying to lure the godly into sin!"
Merlin was angry, but he didn't show it; he just raised his chin and kept walking, intending to pass the man and continue to his class. He wasn't ashamed of being gay or of sometimes wearing skirts and dresses. In fact, his appearance often earned him a lot of compliments. It had taken him a long time to feel comfortable with himself, and one loud preacher wasn't going to take his self-confidence away.
A blond head entered his line of sight, on the far side of the preacher. Merlin focused on it, knowing that if he could keep moving, the nuisance would soon be behind him. He didn't recognize the person, though; he had forgotten his glasses in his haste to get to class.
The man was still droning on. Merlin wished he had his earbuds, but he'd forgotten those, too. When Merlin was finally past him, he let out a long sigh.
"Merlin!" called the blond figure Merlin had been walking towards, who was now waving both his hands.
Merlin squinted in the voice's direction. "Arthur?" he said, uncertainly. He didn't want to stop walking; the preacher was still jabbering about God and hellfire and men in skirts.
Arthur came running up to him. "Yes, who else would I be? You're not wearing your glasses? Honestly, Merlin, you're hopeless. I'm going to order you some of those extended-wear contact lenses for home delivery."
"Thanks," Merlin mumbled. Arthur was on his friend Lance's volleyball team and therefore in Merlin's larger circle of acquaintances, but they had never associated one-on-one. Arthur making pronouncements about Merlin's eye care was just the sort of presumptuous behavior that Merlin had come to expect from him, although in this case, Arthur's suggestion was very thoughtful. It certainly would be nice to always be able to see clearly.
"Hang on a minute. I want to talk to you," Arthur said.
Reluctantly, Merlin slowed his steps and stood in front of Arthur, still very aware of the preacher.
"God sees how you steal away his true believers, boy. You may have forgotten who you are, but God will always know," the man intoned.
Arthur was glaring at the preacher now, his mouth in a firm line. His eyes returned to Merlin's face. "I didn't know this was going on, Merlin. I'll talk to my father about it," he said.
"Um," said Merlin. "It's not a big deal." He shrugged.
"My father is the president of this university. It's in our mission statement that every student has the right to an education. We don't tolerate hate speech," Arthur said forcefully.
Merlin's eyes widened. "I really don't want any trouble," he said.
Merlin made to continue walking but Arthur grabbed his forearm. Merlin spun around, surprised, and he noticed in his peripheral vision that the preacher was now facing them, as well.
"I think we should stage a protest, right now," Arthur said. He looked at Merlin's lips, then met his eyes again.
"You want to kiss me? As a show?" Merlin said. Merlin had to admit that even though Arthur was bossy sometimes, he was also extremely handsome, and Merlin had definitely imagined kissing him before. "I'm not sure he's worth it."
"He isn't, but you definitely are," Arthur said. "You look very nice today." He brought a hand to Merlin's face and caressed his beard. "Mm. I've been thinking about that. You didn't have this when I met you. It's softer than I thought it would be."
The preacher was still rambling, but Merlin wasn't listening. All of Merlin's perception had narrowed to the gentle touch of Arthur's hand.
Merlin didn't know if he'd get a chance like this again. He moved forward and planted a quick kiss against Arthur's lips. Arthur kissed him back, his free hand circling around Merlin's waist and keeping him in place.
"Oh," said Merlin. "You're serious about this, aren't you?"
"Completely," Arthur murmured, low and warm. Merlin hadn't known he could sound like that. "I've been thinking about it for a long time."
Merlin had to kiss him again for that, another quick peck. Arthur kissed back with a little more pressure. Merlin's hand found its way into Arthur's hair, and he let the fine strands fall over his fingers as their kiss deepened.
When they pulled away, they were both smiling.
Arthur bit his lip. "Would you like to grab dinner with me later?" he asked.
Merlin nodded. "I would love to," he said. "I'm heading over to the science building right now. Are you going in that direction?"
Arthur took his hand and they walked away, leaving the preacher ranting after them.