Back to Part One
They fell into an odd sort of friendship after that. They did go out although they had to avoid both rocker and mod territory. Arthur continued to treat Merlin to lunches at various restaurants owned by his father while Merlin took him to record and book shops. He introduced Arthur to The Who, The Kinks, and even got him to admit The Small Faces were good. In exchange Arthur showed Merlin The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.
“Listening to The Beatles reminds me of you sometimes,” he said one night. They were lying on Merlin’s floor while the I Want to Hold Your Hand single played. Merlin had just waited for Arthur to continue, sure he hadn’t meant that he wanted to hold Merlin’s hand. “It’s that our folks – that whole generation – thinks they’re mods, right? They wear suits and Ringo hangs out with Keith Moon. But their music is based in rock roots, so rockers like them. They can cross that line between the two cliques.”
“I don’t know a single mod who listens to The Beatles.”
Merlin did. He had never paid the band much attention before meeting Arthur, but he went out and bought the I Want to Hold Your Hand forty-five once he had saved up enough money. He also decided to let his hair grow out a bit and not only because it made Arthur smile and ruffle the locks as they got longer.
Occasionally Arthur would take his motorcycle and pick Merlin up from college. It was scary at first, riding behind Arthur and putting that much trust in him. Merlin might have mentioned once or twice investing in a sidecar, but Arthur declared that was no fun. So at least once a week, Merlin got to hold tightly onto Arthur as they sped down the streets of London. Once they got to Merlin’s flat, Merlin wouldn’t want to let go, but he would, inviting Arthur to stay for dinner.
Arthur did stay a few times. Gaius even liked him, saying he was a good friend for Merlin to have. Merlin wasn’t sure if his uncle was solely thinking of Merlin’s future for Uther did own a small private practice, but he honestly seemed to enjoy Arthur’s company as well.
They managed to keep their friendship a secret for a month and a half, but Merlin’s friends had been suspicious for some time when they caught Arthur and Merlin walking home from the cinema. Merlin saw them first and tried to discreetly redirect him.
“Come on Merlin. You know this is the fastest route.”
Arthur always spoke quite loudly, and Merlin saw Lance perk up and spot them from across the street. He pointed to them, alerting Gwen and Leon, and in seconds they had crossed the road and were standing in front of Merlin and Arthur.
“He bothering you again Merlin?” Leon asked. Lance still had his arm casually draped around Gwen’s shoulders, but Leon looked ready to fight.
Merlin started to protest, but Arthur interrupted. “I don’t think it’s any of your business.”
“Well, you see, Merlin is our friend, and he’s been acting distant lately. Probably thanks to you. So yes. It is our business.”
“Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to be friends anymore,” Arthur spat.
“No, that’s not it at all,” Merlin said. He put himself between Arthur and Leon hoping it would help. “I know I’ve been distant. It’s not because of Arthur. Well, it is but…”
“I bloody knew it,” Leon shouted.
“But it’s not like that. We… we hang out,” Merlin finished lamely. He realized he couldn’t put what it was like being with Arthur into words, or rather, he could but he’d sound lovesick. Sometimes it felt like Arthur was to, but Merlin wasn’t taking any risks and ruining their friendship.
“You’re friends with him?” Lance asked quietly. “So are you a rocker now?”
“No, I’m still a mod. It doesn’t matter, right?”
“But it does Merlin,” Gwen said. “You can’t be both.”
They left then without another word, but Merlin knew it wasn’t over. Word would spread, and not just between the mods. The rockers would find out. The Knights of Camelot would find out. A feud would be started. He and Arthur would have to prepare for the fallout.
Naturally Arthur disagreed. “Well, he said cheerfully. “That went well.”
The rockers got to the mods first. Merlin was leaving his biology class to find Percy and Gwaine waiting for him. Rather than cause a scene Merlin silently followed them to an alleyway. They had parked their motorcycles there. Quick getaway Merlin noted, and Arthur wasn’t around to ‘save his life’ this time.
“You seem like a decent bloke,” Gwaine started. “You know that we don’t really have a choice in this, however. You can’t see Arthur anymore.”
“This can be really easy too,” Percy added. “It’s not like Arthur is your lady. You’re just mates.”
Merlin couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright, so the next part of the script is where you rough me up a bit just in case I won’t listen to you and then what? We’ll then have a vendetta against you. It’ll be a never ending cycle.”
“Sounds like you don’t want to be part of the cycle anymore. This could be your incentive to leave,” Gwaine said. He then pulled his arm back, fist connecting with Merlin’s face almost in slow motion. He instinctively closed his eyes, but he swore he could see the moment Gwaine’s knuckles bruised his eye.
Merlin went down, and he muttered “I was right” as Gwaine and Percy drove off. They were born to fight. Joining the ranks of rockers gave them a purpose – a reason to spare – and they didn’t have to wander the streets alone. Merlin could hardly blame them since that was the same reason he became a mod. Lance and Gwen were the only people who befriended him when he came to London.
Merlin forced himself to get up and wiped the dirt from his clothes as best he could. He slowly made his way back to campus hoping he hadn’t missed the train. He hadn’t expected to find Arthur waiting for him. He didn’t say anything about meeting him after class.
“There you are Merlin,” Arthur said when he spotted him approaching. “I was getting worried when you weren’t leaving with the rest of your class. Where were you?”
“Oh, just having a chat with some of your friends,” Merlin replied. He tried to keep his head down, but Arthur finally noticed something was of. He gently brushed his fingers under Merlin’s chin and coaxed him to look up. He gasped and moved his hand up to Merlin’s eye.
“How badly does it hurt?”
“Barely felt it,” Merlin said trying to make light of the situation. “He hit like an old man.”
“Who was it?” Arthur asked angrily.
“Arthur, look. It doesn’t matter. We knew this would happen. Instead of you going after then, we need to focus on making sure my friends don’t see me like this. Then they’ll go after your friends.”
“Them?” Arthur threw his helmet down and clenched his fists. “That’s not fair. How could they ever gang up on one guy? Then they’re no good than Cenred and the rest of the Black Magic scum. We can’t just ignore this Merlin.”
“Yes Arthur, we can. We have to. I don’t want a war to start because I couldn’t…” Merlin trailed off. He picked up Arthur’s helmet and handed it back. “Let’s get going. Uncle Gaius can take a look, but I’m sure all I can do is take some aspirin.”
“Oh my God, I’m sorry. Yes, let’s get you home.”
Arthur drove slower than he usually did, and at every red light they hit he’d glance back to make sure Merlin was alright. Merlin could feel a headache coming and he could barely shut his eye, but he already felt better. He felt safe.
There was a note on the kitchen table from Gaius when they arrived at the flat. Merlin read over it carefully and sighed as he crumpled up the piece of paper.
“He went over to a co-worker’s house for dinner.”
“Well, you can take care of yourself,” Arthur said. He went to playfully punch Merlin in the arm but pulled back quickly as if he’d been burned. He cleared his throat before continuing. “I’m sure you’ve covered black eyes in college by now.”
“I can take care of it. I just… I didn’t want to be alone.”
Now that the adrenaline had worn off Merlin had no trouble admitting that he was scared. Not just cared of being cornered again by Gwaine and Percy, but of how he had knowingly pitted everyone against each other and how he was hopelessly in love with Arthur.
“I’ll stay,” Arthur said.
Merlin knew it wasn’t a good idea, but he couldn’t bring himself to say so. He simply nodded and led Arthur to his room just as he had dozens of times before. It felt different this time, though. Once Merlin had taken a couple aspirin and returned, Arthur was lying on his bed staring up at the ceiling.
“I can make something to eat,” Merlin suggested. He was still standing in the doorway contemplating what to do next.
Arthur bolted up and crossed the room. “No, I possibly couldn’t let you. I know my way around the kitchen. I’ll make something.”
Merlin didn’t move preventing Arthur from passing through. “You can’t cook,” he pointed out.
“I’d try. For you.” Arthur gently touched the bruise forming around Merlin’s eye again before replacing his fingertips with his lips. Merlin hardly felt the kiss it was so light. Arthur pulled back and for the first time Merlin had ever seen he looked unsure of himself. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“It’s alright,” Merlin reassured.
“No, it isn’t. It’s not… right.”
“It felt right to me.” Merlin rested his arms on Arthur’s shoulders, clasping his hands together behind his back, the way he’d seen Gwen do with Lance. They were so close – closer than when Arthur leaned into whisper to Merlin on that first night. He was whispering again.
“My father would kill me.”
“I feel like your father would disapprove of anything you did as long as it was your choice.”
Arthur smiled. “You’re right Merlin. I knew you were smarter than you looked. I knew there was something…”
“Oh, shut up,” Merlin said. He closed the distance between then and kissed Arthur. It was soft. Chaste. It was still enough to speed up Merlin’s heart and make him feel like he was soaring.
“What are we going to do now?” Arthur asked. He looked scared but he didn’t attempt to move. Merlin took that as an invitation to hold him even tighter. He had no idea what they would do now. Everything had changed in one day and it was terrifying. All he wanted was to stay there alone with Arthur and not to have to face the rest of the world, but he knew they’d have to.
“We are going to finally do what we want,” he said. Arthur smiled again and leaned in for another kiss.
That Friday Arthur picked Merlin up from college and they shared dinner with Gaius. It was a typical night in for them although they usually didn’t so on Fridays. Fridays were reserved for Merlin to go to The Marquee with his friends. While Gaius and Arthur talked over coffee, Merlin rang Gwen and said he’d meet them at the club. The plan was simple. Merlin would show up with Arthur and tell his friends everything. Well, not quite everything. For now all he needed was for them to realize they could all get along. A different lifestyle shouldn’t prevent that. Gwen should understand.
While the plan was simple Merlin knew there was potential for so much to go wrong. His black eye was still noticeable and even if Gwen, Lance, and Leon welcomed Arthur with open arms they would go after The Knights of Camelot. It was more likely they’d beat both Arthur and Merlin.
Merlin was feeling stressed and he contemplated taking a spare Drimamyl he found in his room. Arthur didn’t like when Merlin popped pill, but it was going to be a long night. Merlin grabbed a glass of water from the bathroom and took the pill quickly. On the way back he picked up his jacket and keys.
“We’re going out Uncle Gaius,” Merlin said. “I won’t be out late.”
“I know Merlin,” Gaius said with a knowing smile. “You have fun. It was nice to see you again Arthur.”
“You too Mr. Emrys.”
Merlin swatted at Arthur’s shoulder. “Oi, stop kissing up to my uncle. We’ll be late.”
“No, we’re going to be late because you had to spend half an hour checking your suit in the mirror.”
Like the plan it was simple to act as if everything was alight. Merlin could tell, however, that Arthur was equally as nervous. He normally would have called him a prat for insulting his fashion sense – even in front of Gaius. He didn’t, though, and shoved Arthur’s jacket into his hands.
“If we don’t leave now it won’t matter whose fault it is,” he pointed out.
They had decided it would be best for Merlin to not ride with Arthur, so he went to get his Vespa out of the garage while Arthur waited. Then they drove off to The Marquee. When they arrived Gwen, Lance, and Leon were waiting outside.
“You heard then?” Merlin asked once he parked. Arthur pulled into the spot beside him. He was uncharacteristically quiet.
“The Knights spread the word,” Lance replied. “We figured you were up to something since you’ve been ignoring us all week.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Gwen asked. She looked as if it pained her to hold back her tears. The last thing Merlin ever wanted to do was hurt her. She had always been his best friend.
“I’m telling you now. I’m telling you that the fight? It doesn’t matter. Arthur and I don’t want you and The Knights fighting over us, but it’s not going to stop us from being friends if you do. Despite me being a mod and him being a rocker we get along. And we want you to try to as well. That’s what we came here to say. We, uh, we haven’t spoke to The Knights yet.”
“Merlin wanted to ask you first,” Arthur said taking over. “You three are much more reasonable then my gang. Even I can see that. If you say no, we won’t try to reason with them. We’ll just… we’ll leave you all be.”
“He’s important to you Merlin, isn’t he?” Gwen was wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her jumper but she was smiling. Merlin nodded and laughed as Gwen hugged him.
Lance and Leon appeared to not be keen on the idea. They stared at Arthur with disdain arms crossed as if to create a barrier between them and the enemy. Gwen stayed by Merlin and Arthur as they waited for one of them to speak first. Before they could pass judgment, however, The Knights of Camelot came barreling down the street and boxed everyone in with their motorcycles.
“What are you doing here?” Arthur demanded. The roar of the engines nearly drowned him out. As The Knights dismounted they turned the bikes of and surrounded Arthur.
“Cenred saw you and Merlin drive through Black Magic territory,” Gwaine said. “He had one of his boys follow you and then sent us word.”
“We already warned Merlin. We didn’t want it to come to this,” Morgana stated her voice wavering.
“You stay away from Merlin,” Gwen said. She stood in front of him protectively. She glanced over to Arthur and then yanked his arm forcing him to stand behind her as well. “You stay away from both of them.”
“Do you think I want to hurt my brother?”
“No, but I think you three should hear what Merlin and Arthur have to say. They make a convincing argument. Why should it matter that Arthur is a rocker? Merlin is friends with him, so I’m sure he and I would get along.”
Merlin gently squeezed Gwen’s shoulder and whispered, “Thank you.”
“You have been happier recently,” Morgan said to Arthur.
He looked to Merlin and then back to his sister and nodded. “I have.”
“I think you are all forgetting that these assholes attacked Merlin,” Leon shouted. “Yes, I’m mad at him for what he did – what he is doing – but he’s still my mate. So what I want to know is why we’re standing here talking when we should be settling this.”
Merlin tried to stop Leon. He pushed him back toward the entrance of The Marquee. He tried to reason with him saying “We are settling this. We don’t need to fight to settle things.” Leon wouldn’t listen. He had retrieved his switchblade and was advancing on Percy. Soon everyone was lost in a blur – arms flailing and legs kicking. Merlin ducked down quickly just as Gwen dodged a punch and Lance knocked over Gwaine. Merlin searched for Arthur in the chaos. He began to panic when he initially didn’t see him. Had he managed to get away? Was he hurt?
Merlin jumped when someone fell next to him. He twisted their arm behind their back before he realized it was Arthur. Arthur shouted and Merlin let go his hand come back covered in blood.
“Watch what you’re doing moron,” Arthur muttered.
“Trust you to still be a prat when injured,” Merlin said softly. He pulled Arthur’s sleeve back to inspect the wound. “What happened? How badly does it hurt?”
“Barely felt it,” Arthur said and flashed a smile.
“Don’t pull that with me. I only had a black eye. At least this doesn’t look too deep.”
“It isn’t. I’ll be fine. You go stop them. Then we can ride off into the sunset. In the direction of the nearest hospital.”
Merlin laughed nervously and made sure Arthur was safely propped up against his Vespa. He ran back to the brawling gangs to find they had stopped. There were a few bloody noses and several split lips, but they appeared to have given up. Gwen was holding Lance’s face as she checked a cut under his eye. Percy was patting Leon on the back saying, “You pack a mean punch for someone so short.” Gwaine and Morgana were sprawled out on the kerb but otherwise seemed fine.
“What exactly is going on?” Merlin asked.
“Your boys… Sorry m’lady. Your friends were too good of a match,” Gwaine said. “So we called a truce.”
“Don’t expect us to be inviting each other round for tea any time soon, though,” Leon added. This had Percy laughing. He slung an arm around Leon’s shoulder almost knocking him over.
“Oh, well. That’s, uh, that’s good,” Merlin muttered. “Gwen, would you mind ringing Elyan and ask him to bring the car round? I need to get Arthur to the hospital.”
Everyone shouted at once. “What?”
Once Gwen had rushed inside the club to use their phone Gwaine and Lance helped Arthur sit up while they waited. Merlin gave Lance both his and Arthur’s keys and asked him to park their vehicles outside his flat. Morgan had begun to fuss over Arthur even going so far as using one of her bandanas to tie around his arm.
Elyan drove Arthur and Merlin to the hospital and left when Merlin insisted they’d be fine. The wait in the A&E was long. Merlin refused to leave despite Arthur pestering him countless times.
“I’m not going to leave your side again,” he said.
“Oh for goodness sake, you’re being so overly dramatic. I’m going to be alright. Everyone is going to be alright. You don’t need to act like my prince in shining armor. We already got our happy ending. Besides if anyone was going to be a prince it’d be me.”
“So what does that make me? The damsel in distress?”
“No, I think you’re more servant material.”
“If you weren’t stabbed only an hour ago I’d hit you right now,” Merlin mumbled then added a “prat” for good measure.
“No you wouldn’t,” Arthur said beaming. “You love me too much.”
Merlin wanted nothing more than to kiss Arthur because he did love him. He wouldn’t have believed it two months ago, but he had fallen for the pretentious and proud rocker. They didn’t quite have happy ending yet. It would be difficult, but Merlin was ready to face those troubles – with Arthur by his side.
So instead of giving him a kiss Merlin checked the bandana to make sure it wasn’t soaking through. He kissed the tip of his finger so only Arthur could see and lightly touched the skin above the wound. “I do, you know,” he whispered.
“I know Merlin. I do too.”